Some Fire Agencies in Wisconsin Ditching Hazardous Firefighting Foam

January 3, 2020

Some Wisconsin fire departments have stopped using firefighting foam that contains a group of man-made chemicals that have been linked to increased cholesterol and cancer risk, among other health hazards.

The Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances contaminate Wisconsin’s groundwater and waterways, and are also found in products like nonstick pans, the Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

In mid-December, the Madison Fire Department switched to fluorine-free foam.

Tests at the University of Notre Dame found the new foam has fluorine levels of one part per million. That’s compared to foams with fluorine at levels of 5,000 to 7,000 ppm, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“I don’t feel safe with our firefighters being exposed to those products,” Madison Fire Chief Steven Davis said.

Davis also has environmental concerns. After the American Transmission Co. substation fire in Madison in July, large amounts of chemicals were found in stormwater runoff, he said.

“I would say the team would tell you ‘no,’ but it works well enough to get the job done,” Davis said of the new foam.

Firefighters will need to use more foam from now on, Davis said. To put out the ATC substation fire, he said firefighters needed about 40 gallons of foam concentrate.

“Probably if that fire burned today, heaven help us, we probably are looking at maybe 50 gallons to 60 gallons of foam concentrate instead,” Davis said.

State lawmakers are considering a bill to partially ban firefighting foams that contains the harmful chemicals.

Peter O’Leary, Fond du Lac fire chief, decided to stop using foam containing those substances after hearing from a concerned water utility supervisor about the harmful chemicals.

“It serves a purpose to us in extinguishing fires, but if the greater good is not using it, is better for the environment and longer-term health problems for people, we’re not gonna be a part of something like that,” O’Leary said.

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