State to test effects of firefighting foam

State to test effects of firefighting foam

20 February 2009

published by

USA — The Minnesota Department of Health plans to sample drinking water supplies at sites around the state where it is possible that the use of firefighting foams has resulted in perfluorochemicals (PFCs) seeping into the ground.

One type of foam sometimes used to fight fires, Class B firefighting foam, contains PFCs.

These Class B foams have been effective in fighting petroleum spills and fires that threaten public health and safety, health officials said. However, at several fire-training facilities where repeated use of these foams has occurred, PFCs have been found in the soil and groundwater.

Officials are concerned that use of Class B firefighting foams may have an impact on drinking-water supplies, especially if the training facility is near a well.

Class A foams, used for structure and wildland fires, probably don’t have PFCs, they noted.

In 2008, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) began surveying fire departments to determine where firefighting foams have been used in training around the state.

Along with the health department, which is responsible for ensuring safe drinking water, the MPCA identified a number of sites throughout Minnesota for further testing this year. Testing will include analysis of soil, groundwater and sediment samples as well as drinking-water samples, both from private wells and from water delivered by public water supplies, such as municipal systems.

The testing sites will include specific areas in Apple Valley, Bemidji, Brooklyn Center, Burnsville, Cloquet, Goodview, Luverne, Perham, Pierz, Pine River, Randall, Richfield, Rochester and Winona. In addition, sites in North St. Paul and Cottage Grove have already been sampled as part of early monitoring done in Washington County.

The Pollution Control Agency will be sampling at fire training sites where it is not likely that municipal wells will be affected — at Alexandria, Bemidji, Brooklyn Center, Burnsville, Claremont, Cottage Grove, Fridley, Goodview, Harmony, Kenyon, Luverne, Myrtle, North Mankato, North St. Paul, Pierz, Preston, Richfield and Rochester.

The agency will sample at four additional locations where there are no nearby municipal wells at risk: Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, Marathon Refinery in St. Paul Park, Flint Hills Refinery in Rosemount and Duluth International Airport.

The health department has developed health-based exposure limits — the level considered safe for people to drink over a lifetime — for three PFCs.

If sampling determines that the levels exceed appropriate limits, recommendations for further actions will be made.

“We want to know what is in the water,” said John Linc Stine, director of the MDH Environmental Health Division. “Although we consider the likelihood of finding PFCs in the water supply wells to be low, it is prudent to perform this testing.”

The next steps in the Class B foam investigation depend on the results of the sampling. Officials would review options for reducing the PFCs in the water source, or possibly look at home-treatment units to reduce exposure.

Groundwater and soil contamination will be referred to the MPCA for further actions.

As results become available, they will be listed on the Web sites listed here:

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