Since 2019, the year Monroe County firefighters discontinued using it, Michigan has disposed more than 50,000 gals of potentially hazardous firefighting spray foam.
Environmental advocates and firefighters agree that it isn’t enough.
The foam to be removed contains PFAS. PFAS is an acronym for perfluoroalkyl-polyfluoroalkyl substance. Scientists now know that these chemicals can have harmful effects on people and the planet. Michigan is working to reduce their use.
Monroe Township Fire Chief Mark Cherney stated that his unit and other Monroe County Fire Departments have stopped using PFAS foams since 2019.
Cherney announced Monday that “We’re getting rid ours.” “We still have six buckets and are waiting for the state’s pickup so they can dispose off it. We have been waiting over a year. They must have a backlog.
He said that the unsafe foam was used to combat Class B fires involving flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, and jet fuel. The foam is not intended to be used in the fight against structure fires.
“Nobody’s been using that foam from 2019,” the chief stated. “Everybody in the county works together, and we all know it.”
The six buckets his fire department has stored were leftovers from a trailer used to fight liquid flames. The trailer, measuring 15 feet in length, is currently stored at the Bedford Township Fire Station.
Bedford Fire Chief Adam Massingill explained that state environmental officials picked up the foam Bedford had and disposed of it. It has been at the Bedford firehouse since 2019, when it was removed from Monroe Township. He stated that the trailer was not used frequently and sits empty while county firefighters association decides what to make of it.
Massingill stated that the trailer was being viewed as a “wait-and-see” approach. “The county has several options to consider.”
He said that there aren’t many fuel spillages in the county.
“It (the Trailer) is still a useable county asset,” he stated.
Cherney said that a Monroe Township firefighter named Carl (Brownie Brown) modified the trailer back in 1980 to allow it to be used countywide. The trailer was kept in a garage near the township’s main firehouse off S. Dixie Hwy. (M-125) before it moved to Temperance.
Rep. Jeff Yaroch (R-Richmond) stated that modern fires can increase cancer risks. This risk is increased by constant exposure to PFAS foam.
Yaroch said that this foam was not harmful to firefighters when Yaroch was a volunteer firefighter. Now that we know the facts, it is time to act.
Yaroch stated that Michigan is one the most prominent states in these PFAS issues, particularly as it relates firefighting foams.
Yaroch stated that foam is no more allowed to be used for training or calibration. However, it is still necessary to put out fires in airports where hazardous Teflon foam was previously used.
The state helps with disposal and encourages the purchase of safer foams.
Scott Dean, communication adviser to the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energys, stated that education programs and free collection have reduced unnecessary usage.
However, disposal still comes at a significant cost for many communities, according Jeff Roberts of Wixoms Fire Chiefs and President of the Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs.
Roberts stated that they did take it away for free. However, you lose the investment and foam isn’t cheap to start with.
Yaroch stated that the fire department is currently looking for alternatives. Dow Chemical Midland is currently looking into alternatives.
During this time, firefighters are reporting the use PFAS foams to a Michigan pollution hotline.
Dean stated that we use the reports to ensure cleanup is completed and that the site has been documented as potentially contaminated.
Aaron Weed, former Oscoda Township Supervisor, stated that there are already alternatives. Oscoda Fire Department switched manufacturers after its previous supplier was vague on ingredients.
Weed explained that we found one who was very willing to stop using PFAS. We switched to ensure we were safe.
He suggested that these options may not be known by other departments. These departments may not be able to address these issues because they are too busy.
Other groups encourage the Federal Aviation Administration (military) to switch to PFAS-free options.
Weed said that Michigan is moving in the right directions. It may appear that Michigan has more PFAS than other States, but this is due to the extensive testing that was done.
Weed stated that PFAS issues in Oscoda are important due to the decommissioned Wurtsmith Air Force Base. The Air Force continued to use the PFAS-based supply after the local fire department switched to foams.
Weed believes that this is because the Air Force wants the stockpile to be used, and not replace it.
Weed believes that the issue is often overlooked due to the involvement of Oscodas and the Air Force.
He said that people treat us like they are just a few people in the forest. We don’t need to worry about them. That is a federal problem.
Weed stated that all Michigan residents should be concerned. Once PFAS reaches a body of water, it can quickly spread to the Great Lakes and contaminate municipal systems.
Yaroch stated that it is important to switch to new foam options. This is better news for firefighters, and better for the environment.
At the Great Lakes Virtual PFAS Summit, December 6-10, PFAS in firefighting products will be discussed.
The summit will be held on Whova, a virtual conference platform hosted by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. Register at
Emerson Wigand from Capital News Service, a wire-service based at Michigan State University contributed to this article.