MassDEP program removes old PFAS-contaminated foams from fire department stockpiles

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A Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) program has collected and destroyed more than 149,000 pounds of legacy firefighting foam concentrate from public safety operations across the state, ensuring that the chemical contaminants in the foam can no longer pollute drinking water resources and fragile waterways or threaten public health.

The legacy foam manufactured before 2003 contains Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) that can cause health issues at low concentrations. The PFAS chemicals are included in the Class B Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) used by fire departments to extinguish burning hydrocarbons within many types of fuels or other flammable liquids. The AFFF-type foam is often used at airfields when airplanes crash or on roadways when fuel tankers overturn and spill their contents. Once applied at a crash scene, the long-chain version of PFAS chemicals can seep into the ground and contaminate water resources nearby.

The take-back program, operated by MassDEP, with the assistance of the Department of Fire Services (DFS), targeted old foam formulations manufactured before 2003, as manufacturers stopped production of the suspect foams in 2002. Short-chain foam formulations are still in use by fire services.

After DFS contacted every fire department across the state, over the last five months MassDEP worked with 105 fire departments, fire districts and public safety entities to determine the quantity of legacy foam across the state.

MassDEP hired New England Disposal Technology, Inc. (NEDT) of Sutton, one of the agency’s hazardous materials cleanup contractors, to remove the legacy foam. In total, 149,016 pounds (or 17,531 gallons) of foam concentrate was transported to a fuel-blending facility in Ohio, which destroyed the material in a state-of-the-art fuel incinerator.

MassDEP has also worked closely with the communities of Ayer, Devens, Hudson, Hyannis, Westfield and West Tisbury where their drinking water supply wells have been impacted by PFAS chemicals, providing technical assistance.

The Baker-Polito Administration has provided over $1.2 billion in loan financing over four years for municipal projects to improve water quality, upgrade or replace aging drinking water and wastewater infrastructure and cut treatment plant energy use and costs.

MassDEP will continue to evaluate information and ongoing research about the impacts of various foam formulations, and will keep working to identify effective and safe alternatives to PFAS foams. For more information on PFAS and the legacy foam take-back program, click here.

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