DNR seeks contractor to dispose of forever chemicals | Science & Environment

The state of Wisconsin is looking for a contractor to dispose of some 25,000 gallons of firefighting foam containing toxic forever chemicals.

The Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection announced a request for bids Monday for collection and disposal of foam containing the synthetic compounds known as PFAS.

The current two-year budget includes $1 million for a foam disposal program, one of the recommendations in a 2020 PFAS action plan. Similar disposal efforts are underway in Michigan and Indiana.

Based on a 2020 survey of fire departments, the DNR estimated there were 63,200 to 96,300 gallons of PFAS-containing foam on hand, including more than 30,000 gallons of expired or unwanted foam.

Mimi Johnson, policy director for the DNR’s environmental management division, said some municipalities have since disposed of their unwanted foam.

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“Some of the larger ones … tend to have more space in their budget,” Johnson said. “Smaller, more rural volunteer-based departments might not have the capacity.”

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages, as well as reimbursement for the costs of PFAS investigations, cleanup and remediation.

Johnson said the initial funding should be enough to cover the unwanted foam already identified, but the state may need to allocate additional funds to cover future disposal as the Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration change their policies to allow the use of foams that contain newer fluorinated compounds.

DNR regulations require foam to be disposed of in a federally licensed hazardous waste landfill. The closest one to Wisconsin is in Peoria, Illinois.

In 2019, the Madison Fire Department became the first in Wisconsin to stop using foam with made with legacy PFAS. The department paid North Shore Environmental Construction $8,850 to collect and dispose of 610 gallons of concentrated foam in an Oregon landfill.

A state law passed in 2020 prohibits the use of PFAS-containing foam except in emergencies or in testing facilities with “appropriate” containment and disposal measures, though Republican lawmakers later stripped key pieces of the DNR’s rule implementing the law, including numeric limits on the amount of PFAS that can be discharged in wastewater.

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Used for decades in firefighting foam and consumer products, PFAS don’t break down naturally and have been linked to cancer, liver disease and other health problems.

The DNR is monitoring more than 40 PFAS contamination sites around the state, including Marinette, La Crosse and Madison, where firefighters sprayed foam for decades as part of training exercises.

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