Perfluorochemicals in Class B Firefighting Foam

What is being sampled and why?
A type of foam used to fight fires, Class B firefighting foam, contains a class of chemicals known as perfluorochemicals (PFCs). These Class B foams have been effective in fighting petroleum spills and fires that threaten public health and safety. However, at several fire-training facilities, where repeated use of these foams has occurred, PFCs have been found in the soil and groundwater. Thus, use of Class B firefighting foams may have an impact on drinking-water supplies, especially if the training facility is near a well. Class A foams, used for structure and wildland fires, probably don’t have the PFC chemicals.

In 2008, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) began preliminary testing at locations where firefighting foams have been used in training around the state. Along with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), which is responsible for ensuring safe drinking water, the MPCA identified a number of sites throughout Minnesota for further testing in 2009. The testing will include analysis of soil, groundwater, and sediment samples as well as drinking-water samples, both from private wells and from water delivered by public water supplies, such as municipal systems.

The sites where MDH will sample public water supplies include:

Apple Valley
Brooklyn Center
North Mankato
Pine River

In addition, two sites, North St. Paul and Cottage Grove, have already been sampled as part of earlier monitoring. 

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What are the specific concerns?
MDH has developed health-based exposure limits, the level considered safe for people to drink over a lifetime, for three PFCs.
At this time, there is not enough scientific information to set limits for the other PFCs. If sampling determines that the levels of PFCs exceed the appropriate limits, recommendations for further actions to protect public health will be made.

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What is being done about the issue?
The next steps depend on the results of the sampling. If levels of PFCs are found that are of concern, public water systems will review options for reducing the PFCs in their water. Some may be able to reduce overall concentrations by combining water from different sources, including wells that are found to be free of PFCs. Additional information will be made available to citizens on actions they can take, such as home treatment units, to reduce exposure.

Groundwater and soil contamination will be referred to the MPCA for further actions, which may include additional investigation and remediation activities.

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When will we know more?
As the results of sampling from wells, soil, and groundwater become available in the spring and summer, updated information will be included on the web sites listed below. All of the sampling should be completed by the fall of 2009.

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For more information:
A great deal of information, including technical details, is available on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health web sites:

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency: Perfluorochemicals
Perfluorochemicals and Health
Aqueous Film Forming Foams
Class B Firefighting Foam - Municipal Well Investigative Sampling Results

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Contacts for questions:
Stew Thornley, Minnesota Department of Health, 651-201-4655
Nile Fellows, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 651-757-2352

Updated Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 03:13PM