As more states develop regulatory standards for PFAS, many are also recognizing that certain formulations of firefighting foams that were manufactured into the early 2000s or earlier contain legacy PFAS compounds, including Class B Aqueous Film-Forming Foams (AFFF), and that historic applications of these foams in training or in emergency response uses may have contributed to PFAS contamination in the environment.
While manufacturers generally ceased producing PFAS-containing foams in 2002, and many states have since placed strict limits on when PFAS-containing foams can be used, a thorny problem remains: what to do with stockpiles of PFAS-containing foams across the country. Several states have responded with programs for the take-back and disposal of PFAS-containing foams.
Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), for example, has developed a free and voluntary PFAS foam disposal program with the state fire marshal’s office, and has collected over 32,000 gallons of AFFF containing long-chain PFAS since December 2019. The collected foams are being sent to Idaho for solidification and disposal. The program is currently slated to end on July 31, 2020.
Washington also has a safe disposal program, funded through its Department of Ecology.
Massachusetts established a take-back program in 2018, providing funding for local fire departments to identify PFAS-containing AFFF manufactured before 2003 in their stockpiles, and for MassDEP to dispose of these foams. During its existence, the program collected over 149,000 pounds (more than 17,500 gallons) of legacy foam from fire departments across the Commonwealth and MassDOT, including foams from area foam caches or major facilities. The collected foams were sent out of state for destruction at a refuse derived fuel incinerator.
For municipalities or other authorities or users concerned about stockpiles of firefighting foams, it’s worth checking with your state’s environmental agency or emergency management officials to determine whether a take-back program currently exists in your state and if your facility is eligible to participate.
Working through voluntary state takeback programs may be preferable to contracting directly with disposal facilities. For example, an upstate New York hazardous waste kiln operator was recently directed to cease incineration of U.S. Department of Defense foams containing PFAS compounds until additional testing confirms that high-temperature incineration effectively destroys PFAS in AFFF. The New York state environmental agency is conducting soil and water sampling in the communities around the facility, and is requiring expanded review of the facility’s Title V and hazardous waste permit renewals.