PFAS foam

PFAS foam (Photo: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services)

Reminder: Avoid Contaminated Foam On Michigan Rivers, Lakes

May 28, 2019 - 10:56 am
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(WWJ) With swimming season underway, Michiganders and visitors are reminded to avoid foam on lakes and rivers that may be contaminated. 

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, foam on certain water bodies (listed below) can have much higher amounts of per and poly-fluoroalkyl substance -- better known as PFAS --  than there is in the water itself, which could pose a health risk if swallowed. 

Health advisories for foam are in effect for these waterbodies:

  • Van Etten Lake, Oscoda.
  • Lake Margrethe, Grayling.
  • Rogue River, Rockford.
  • Thornapple River, Grand Rapids.
  • Huron River, Southeast Michigan.

To be clear, health officials say it's still OK to swim in the listed lakes and rivers, because the amount of PFAS is typically low compared to the foam. 

While an accidental swallow of river or lake water is not a health concern; swallowing the foam itself should be avoided. There is also concern about touching PFAS foam and then eating something, according to Deb MacKenzie-Taylor, toxicology and response section manager with MDHHS.

If you do accidently touch the foam, she said, wash it off before you eat and you'll be OK. 

In fact, health officials say the best advice is just to wash it off in general. Although, current science indicates PFAS does not move easily through the skin, the MDHHS says it’s best to rinse off foam after contact and then bathe or shower after the day’s outdoor activities. 

Another concern is for those who spend a lot of time in the water. An MDHHS evaluation of how young children might recreate on lakes and rivers shows a health risk could exist from repeated, prolonged whole-body contact with foam containing high amounts of PFAS. Repeated prolonged contact is considered to be three hours per day, five days per week, over three months of a year.

Also important to note for pet owners: The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development recommends that people not allow their animals – especially dogs – to come into contact with or swallow the foam. Dogs and other animals can potentially swallow foam collected in their fur when grooming themselves and should be thoroughly rinsed off with fresh water after contact with foamy water.

How do you recognize PFAS foam? 

Not all foam contains PFAS. There is naturally occurring foam that piles up in bays, eddies or river barriers such as dams. This foam is off-white and/or brown in color and may have an earthy or fish smell.

PFAS foam:

  • Can be bright white.
  • Is usually lightweight.
  • Can be sticky.
  • Tends to pile up like shaving cream.
  • Can blow onto the beach.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS are manmade chemicals not naturally found in the environment that are used in a variety of industrial and consumer products, such as carpet and clothing treatments and firefighting foams. 

For more information about PFAS and foam, possible associated health concerns, and to learn what the state is doing about PFAS, visit Michigan.gov/pfasresponse.

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