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State Warning: Don’t Touch PFAS Foam

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Lake Van Etten is one of many bodies of water in Michigan plagued by PFAS foam. (MI DHHS)
Lake Van Etten is one of many bodies of water in Michigan plagued by PFAS foam. (MI DHHS)
May 2, 2019

LANSING, Mich. – That white, sticky foam that's fouled quite a few Michigan shorelines is more dangerous than previously believed, and state environmental officials are warning people not to touch it.

Prior warnings about toxic PFAS foam advised against swallowing it, but new data shows high concentrations of unsafe chemicals in the foam, so the Department of Health and Human Services is telling people to stay away from it altogether.

"The main concern is for swallowing the foam or getting on their hands and their eating something,” explains Deb MacKenzie-Taylor, toxicology and response section manager at DHHS. “If you accidentally touch it and wash it off, you're OK."

Naturally occurring foam often is beige and has a marine smell. PFAS foam, which comes from firefighting chemicals that have leached into the groundwater, is bright white and piles up like shaving cream – and that could entice children and animals to play with it.

The website Michigan.gov/PFASresponse advises owners to thoroughly rinse pets that come in contact with the foam. It also lists the pollution reporting hotline – so people can request the foam be removed.

MacKenzie-Taylor says that animal studies indicate that PFAS exposure can lead to developmental delays and a compromised immune system in breastfeeding babies and developing fetuses.

For adults, the data indicates that people who have high exposures – 3 hours a day, five days a week for three months – may have a higher risk of testicular and kidney cancer.

"Most of the concerns are for changes in cholesterol levels,” explains MacKenzie-Taylor. “For women having a harder time becoming pregnant, and if they are pregnant for high blood pressure associated with pregnancy, called eclampsia."

In the past, the agency has put out foam advisories for Lake Van Etten, Lake Margrethe in Grayling, and along the Rogue River.

Foam has reportedly also has been spotted in Cascade Township, Alpena, Oscoda, Rockford and on the banks of the Huron River.

DHHS is working to get warning signs to local jurisdictions that request them.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MI