Wisconsin Firefighter Foam Restrictions Signed into Law

Published on February 11, 2020 by Sandy Liebhard

The Governor of Wisconsin has signed a new law restricting the use of firefighter foams that contain potentially dangerous chemicals called polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The law, which was signed by Governor Tony Evers on February 6th, prohibits the use of PFAS firefighter foams for training purposes. However, the products may still be used in in certain emergency situations and for testing, so long as testing facilities implement “appropriate containment, treatment, and disposal or storage measures to prevent discharges of the foam to the environment.”

Any departments or facilities that use PFAS firefighter foams in accordance with the stated exemptions must also notify the state as soon as is practicable and request safety data sheets relating to the foams.

Finally, the new law stipulates: “Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or distribution of a class B firefighting foam that contains intentionally added PFAS.”

Wisconsin is among more than a dozen states that have restricted or considered restricting PFAS firefighter foams. However, the majority of states that have adopted limits have gone further than Wisconsin, and now prohibit use of such products in emergency situations.

PFAS: What’s the Problem?

PFAS, are man-made chemicals found in dozens of products, including aqueous film-forming firefighting foams, stain resistant fabrics, and Teflon cookware.  Dubbed the “forever chemicals,” they are known accumulate in the environment, including groundwater, and the human body.

Animal studies suggest two specific PFAS — PFOA and PFOS – may increase the risk for cancer and other serious health problems. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies both chemicals as “emerging contaminants,” and has established a “Lifetime Health Advisory” setting a recommended lifetime limit for exposure from drinking water.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has also issued a warning regarding increased risks of breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer and kidney cancer related to the use of firefighter foam at U.S. military installations.

While PFOA and PFOS have not been manufactured or used in the United States since 2015, PFOA has been detected in the blood of 98% of the U.S. population. The chemicals are also found in the environment, especially near military bases and manufacturing facilities, where PFOA has seeped into local water supplies.

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