PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that have been manufactured and used in the United States since the 1940s, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to harmful human health effects.
The La Crosse Fire Department recently discovered that one of the foams they use to fight fires contains PFAS and are now looking to make a change.
“We’ve joined a task force with other fire departments throughout the state and along with them, [are] looking at alternatives to the foams that we are currently using,” said Assistant Chief Jeff Murphy of the La Crosse Fire Department.
The fire department says that the foam in question can go a year without being used as it targets a certain type of fire.
“A fuel oil fire, a gasoline fire, that sort of thing,” Murphy said. “It forms a blanket and keeps the vapors from reigniting in that situation. Obviously, we don’t have a lot of big fires like that.”
While the risk is fairly minimal, the department says they want to avoid these products getting into the water ways.
The department is still looking for a new foam to fight active fires with, however, they say they’ve already switched to an alternative one for exercise practices.
“When we’re doing the training, if people see that we are using foam, that’s a training foam that doesn’t include any of the PFAS,” Murphy said.
The department also wants to look into the foam they use more frequently for structure fires and see if it needs to be replaced as well.
While PFAS are dangerous, they are used in a lot of common day items like rain coats, Teflon, and cleaning products.
“Most recently we found out that the turnout gear that we all wear has a coating that includes PFAS as well,” Murphy said. “It goes way beyond the firefighting foams.”
The fire department hopes to make a decision in the next few months for an alternative foam and then find a funding source.