PFAS in Firefighting Foam at Wisconsin Fire Departments

News Release: DNR asking Wisconsin Fire Departments to Report Use of PFAS-Containing Firefighting Foam. February 6, 2020.

MADISON, Wis. – A statewide survey on the use and storage of PFAS-containing firefighting foams at Wisconsin fire departments is currently being conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Survey Center (UWSC), on behalf of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The survey began on Jan. 13 and will end March 17, 2020. Results are expected in early April.

“All PFAS-containing foams have the potential to create an adverse environmental impact if released into the environment, particularly if the foam solutions reach drinking water sources, groundwater or surface waters. Knowing where this foam is will help us ensure that the environment is protected from its damaging effects,” said Secretary-designee Preston D. Cole.

The survey coincides with Governor Evers’ signing of 2019 Wisconsin Act 101 on Feb. 5, a bipartisan bill that prohibits the use of firefighting foam that contains perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) unless the use is part of an emergency firefighting or fire prevention operation or the use is for testing purposes. The bill calls for prevention measures to keep PFAS-containing foam out of the environment, requires rulemaking for storage, requires the DNR be notified when PFAS-containing foam is used, and requires documentation from those that have this type of foam.

PFAS are part of a large group of synthetic chemicals used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s. PFAS are often present in the firefighting foams used for petroleum and other high-hazard flammable liquid fires. PFAS are highly persistent, may be highly mobile, and some bioaccumulate in organisms. PFAS are also not removed or destroyed by conventional wastewater treatment processes, unlike many other hazardous substances.

The primary, immediate, goal of the survey is to identify how much PFAS-containing foam concentrate is stored at fire departments around the state. This information will help inform a cost estimate of a potential statewide collection and disposal efforts. In addition to Act 101, Senate Bill 717 proposes a voluntary clean sweep effort for this type of foam.

Along with the data collection and analysis, the survey will help the DNR build a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with the firefighting community of Wisconsin.

“Working together we can ensure that alternative foams are both highly effective for fire suppression and much safer for the environment, which then protects the health of firefighters and the communities they serve,” Cole said.

Wisconsin joins Minnesota, Michigan, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Colorado and other states in working with local fire departments to address the environmental and human health risks associated with PFAS.