PFAS Detected In Surface Water Foam On Waterways In City Of Marinette And Town Of Peshtigo

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) received sample results from Johnson Controls, Inc., and Tyco Fire Products, LP (JCI/Tyco), confirming the presence of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in surface water foam collected on waterways in the city of Marinette and the town of Peshtigo.

JCI/Tyco collected surface water foam from small streams as part of ongoing site investigation and response activities associated with PFAS contamination from JCI/Tyco's Fire Technology Center in Marinette as part of JCI/Tyco's surface water foam response work plan. This is the first time surface water foam collected from the ditches has been tested for PFAS.

From March 19 – May 19, 2021, JCI/Tyco removed 57 gallons of foam that had accumulated on ditches B and C. JCI/Tyco submitted a report documenting the locations and volumes of surface water foam collected this spring. The surface water foam that was collected from ditches B and C was combined and stored in sealed containers at the Fire Technology Center.

One composite sample was collected from the containerized foam and analyzed for 36 PFAS to determine where the material could be safely disposed. The composite sample had PFOS detected at 63,000 parts per trillion (ppt) and PFOA at 23,000 ppt. Other PFAS compounds were detected in the foam.

Surface water foam, even when naturally occurring, can contain a variety of bacteria and concentrate chemical compounds; concentrations of contaminants in the foam are not necessarily representative of concentrations in the corresponding surface water. Surface water sampled from ditch B (pre-treatment) have averaged PFOA at 130 ppt and PFOS at 2,000 ppt. In their report, JCI/Tyco notes that they will work to identify additional locations to install additional signs to notify the public of PFAS contamination in the water as necessary.

Foam frequently collects on the surfaces of water bodies where wind and wave action pushes it to the shore. Both natural processes and pollution contribute to the formation of surface water foam. Natural foams develop when plants or other naturally occurring materials break down and water becomes enriched with nutrients. Spills, discharges or runoff contaminated with cleaning agents, PFAS-containing firefighting foam or other chemical contaminants can contribute to foam formation events that are non-natural in origin.

The DNR and Department of Health Services (DHS) recommend that people avoid coming into contact with any foam observed on waterways – either due to natural bacteria or chemicals. Current science indicates that touching foam without hand-to-mouth activity poses a low risk to human health because the skin is a natural barrier to PFAS in foam, as well as many other harmful substances. However, touching PFAS in foam can become a health concern if the foam or residue left behind on this skin are accidentally swallowed. In addition to PFAS, foam in surface water can also contain bacteria and other harmful germs that may cause illness if swallowed. Therefore, if people accidentally touch foam, DHS and DNR recommend they wash their skin as soon as possible, and always wash hands before preparing or eating food to avoid accidental ingestion.

People wanting to recreate in, or make contact with, surface water should look for water quality signage indicating unsafe conditions. When there are no signs, individuals should assess water conditions themselves before interacting with the water and avoid areas where foam is visible.

Research on the health effects of PFAS exposure for companion animals is limited. To protect the health of your pets, DHS recommends keeping them away from foam. If pets accidentally go in water containing PFAS, rinse them off with clean water and do not let them lick foam from their fur. Always bring along fresh, clean water for pets to drink. For more information, see DHS's memo on surface water and foam.

PFAS are a group of human-made chemicals used for decades in numerous products, including non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and certain types of firefighting foam. These legacy contaminants have made their way into the environment through spills of PFAS-containing materials, discharges of PFAS-containing wastewater to treatment plants and certain types of firefighting foams.

PFAS can persist in the environment and the human body for long periods of time. Recent scientific findings indicate that exposure to certain PFAS may have harmful health effects in people. According to DHS, exposure to some PFAS substances above certain levels may increase the risk of adverse health effects, such as increased cholesterol, decreased antibody response and decreased fertility in women.

Addressing PFAS contamination in the environment is part of Gov. Tony Evers' statewide initiative to ensure Wisconsinites have access to clean, safe drinking water. In 2019, the governor signed Executive Order #40 to address the issue of PFAS across the state.

Additionally, the governor's 2021-23 biennial budget proposes significant resources for the monitoring and testing of PFAS including over $20 million over the next two years for assistance and resources to local communities that are impacted by PFAS contamination, aiding local fire departments in disposing of PFAS foam, and adding additional DNR staff to implement the Wisconsin PFAS Action Council's action plan.

Additional information may be found on the DNR's PFAS Contamination in the Marinette and Peshtigo Area webpage.