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Towns Need Greater Partnership With State And Businesses To Battle Environmental Fallout From Fire-Fighting Foam Leaching Into Municipal Aquifers And Public Water Supplies

Towns Need Greater Partnership With State And Businesses To Battle Environmental Fallout From Fire-Fighting Foam Leaching Into Municipal Aquifers And Public Water Supplies

For immediate release

Kevin Maloney, 203-710-3486 

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) today (Tuesday, March 3) said that it is thankful that Governor Lamont’s proposed state budget includes $2 million in new funding help towns to replace the toxic foam used to fight  fires  --  the most nefarious being per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances or PFAS; but a far greater partnership and funding from the state and responsible businesses will be needed as towns across the state now face immense potential environmental liability as the long used (but not longer used) fire-fighting foam has leached into underground aquifers and migrated into public water supplies, possibly contaminating some municipal water beyond acceptable levels.    

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to PFAS over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants, cancer, liver effects, immune effects, thyroid effects and others. PFAS can enter the blood stream through food, drinking water, and the biodegradation of products that contain these chemicals. And once they are in, they are there forever, earning them the name “forever chemicals.”   

PFAS entered the municipal realm as they were also used to make Aqueous Film-Forming Foams (AFFF).   Many municipal fire departments currently have stocks of AFFF, and a new state action plan discusses the need for “financial assistance for the establishment of a take-back program to safely dispose of AFFF and thereby prevent future releases.” 

In 2019, Governor Ned Lamont created the Connecticut Interagency PFAS Task Force to handle the problems created by chemicals leeching into our waters. Their final action plans recommendations were to test public drinking water, set a maximum contaminant level, identifying and evaluating sources of human exposure, minimizing occupational exposure, establishing limits for PFAS in consumer products and standards for cleanup, developing a GIS database that identifies and establish public outreach team. 

In addition to these chemicals being on ships and aircraft, they have become a staple for municipal fire departments due to their ability to fight gasoline, oil, and other chemical fires. While training with AFF foam should be avoided, doing so does increase the chances of spreading the chemical.  

These foams worked well in preventing fire because of their ability to cover large areas of fire without spreading fuel.  According to the Department of Defense, they use the foam because “on ships and on aircraft, the close proximity of people, fuel, and munitions can be especially dangerous. AFFF worked by quickly by spreading out over the surface of the fuel, depriving the fire of oxygen, quickly extinguishing even large fires.”  

 

3M and Dupont back to top

Created by corporations such as 3M and DuPont, PFAS were used safely in everything from food packaging to carpets to clothing to make things durable and non-stick. Teflon is an inert Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), a subset of PFAS.   PFAS were once the wave of the future. Every household had a non-stick pan and fire departments around the country were using AFFF to control fires. But now we know the harmful effects of these chemicals and waters around the country might have trace amounts of PFAS. The question is how much is harmful and who is going to be the ones to pay for the remediation.   

Attorney Paul J. Napoli of the law firm Napoli Shkolnik and Water Hang, President of Toxics Targeting, spoke in detail to CCM member municipal leaders about the issue and raised the legal arguments for manufacturers, such as 3M and Dupont, paying significant damages to the towns to help them pay for the environmental remediation that is necessary now and in the future. 

Here are examples they presented of lawsuit settlements and costs budgeted by state governments to give some idea of the costs of PFAS contamination. However, the full scope of environmental and societal costs in Connecticut and other states is still to be assessed:  

Michigan is spending $23.2 million for costs associated with PFAS contamination, including testing, monitoring and technical assistance at more than a dozen sites across Michigan.  

In New York the cost to install a temporary municipal filtration system and hundreds of private well filtration systems and working to identify an alternate permanent drinking water source in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. was budgeted at $10 million Governor Cuomo also announced availability of $350 Million for water system upgrades statewide for PFAS.  

In Massachusetts, Barnstable County paid $2.95 million for cleanup of contaminated wells in the Town of Barnstable and the City of Westfield approved $13 million bond to address contaminated water.

New Hampshire taxpayers have shouldered the burden of nearly $14 million to clean up PFAS from a Superfund site owned by Coakley Landfill Group. As of 2017, New Hampshire had already spent roughly $30 million on PFAS remediation projects.  

PFAS contamination at Cape Fear, North Carolina has cost $1.8 million to date with an additional $650,000 for legal fees and water quality testing.