In the news this week are two items about PFAS, the ubiquitous, and forever compounds, of which there are an estimated 4730.
First, in Wisconsin, the Madison Fire Department announced that it has ceased using fluorinated foam fire fighting chemicals that contain PFAS, substituting them with two PFAS-free compounds. This, according to a story by Chris Hubbuch in the December 17th Wisconsin State Journal.
The Madison Fire Department said that it had found two alternative fire fighting foams verified as PFAS-free by an independent lab and that it has “contracted with a licensed disposal company to destroy its existing stock of fluorinated foam” according to Lt. Michael Anderson of the Madison Fire Department.
One should applaud the Madison Fire Department for this safety and public health initiative, which may be the first of its kind by a fire department in Wisconsin. After all as one Madison fire fighter said, they live here too and drink the water and breath the same air as the rest of us.
However, one can, at the same time, be skeptical that the overall PFAS/PFOS contamination problem has been solved. Estimates are that there are more than 4,700 variants on the PFAS theme, most of which have not been tested for human health affects. This according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and its SUMMARY REPORT ON UPDATING THE OECD 2007 LIST OF PER- AND POLYFLUOROALKYL SUBSTANCES (PFASs). Therefore, there is no guarantee that the two PFAS-free alternatives chosen by the Madison Fire Department will also be free of negative environmental and public health impacts.
Also from Madison comes some very disconcerting news about PFAS compounds. It is known that PFAS have been found in lakes, rivers, drinking water and groundwater reserves. Until now we though rainfall was safe. Now, PFAS compounds have been found, at high levels in rainfall in the Eastern United States, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP). The results were announced in a recent study reported in The Guardian
The research team led by Martin Shafer looked for 36 different PFAS compounds in 37 rainfall samples for a week at 30 different sites, primarily along the East Coast but also in Alabama and Washington. They found at least one of the 36 different compounds being studied in each of the 37 samples. Click here for The Guardian story.
Quoted from The Guardian story:
“Shafer says he suspects PFAS chemicals are entering rainwater through a variety of avenues, like direct industrial emissions and evaporation from PFAS-laden fire-fighting foams. Still, “there’s a dearth of knowledge about what’s supporting the atmospheric concentrations and ultimately deposition of PFAS”, he says.”
From a personal perspective, the presence of PFAS compounds in the air, rainfall, groundwater, drinking water, lakes and streams is frightening and presents a clear and present danger for human health and that of the environment in which we live