With 200 gallons of foam containing PFAS stored away, McFarland Fire and Rescue is determining what to do with the foam as concern about PFAS increases.

Chief Chris Dennis compiled a report on the department’s use of foam containing PFAS, which he presented at the public safety committee meeting Feb. 12.

PFAS, or polyfluoroalkyl substances, are used in waterproof clothing, stain-resistant carpet treatments, non-stick cookware, electrical wire insulation and cosmetics.

“Where we stand as a department is we made a decision – even before PFAS came around – to handle foam considerably different than a lot of departments in the county, the state do,” Dennis said.

The foam is only harmful when deployed, and the department has not needed to use its 200-gallon supply stored in five-gallon containers.

“We have not gone the route of disposing it yet, because we have not found a good alternative,” Dennis said.

There are two methods for PFAS disposal, including thermal destruction and carbon filtration. The most effective is thermal destruction as disposal of saturated carbon is limited.

“When we want to make the decision, we want to make the right decision because this stuff isn’t cheap,” the chief said. “It’s running $25 to $30 a gallon.”

The department will continue to monitor options from manufacturers when considering options to replace the foam.

“It’s all new formulations on the market and not to be the skeptic, I’m sure we’re going to find out in 10 years that this isn’t any better,” Capt. Brian Molenaar said.

He noted that the largest users of foam with PFAS, the U.S. Air Force and Navy, have not switched to a PFAS-free foam at this time.

“There’s a little bit of credibility there that I think it’s worth paying attention to since they probably have a higher instance of dealing with higher flammable liquid fires than most municipal departments,” Molenaar said.

Fluorine-free foams could replace the current foam, but they need to be applied at a greater density to be effective.

There is limited information about what formula to switch to.

“While we are waiting for more information and legislation to occur to determine a final path forward, we revised our own policy here to only use PFAS for firefighting or fire prevention when life safety is at risk,” Dennis said.

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