Health agency: Steer clear of foam on waterbodies

PFAS are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are widely used, long-lasting chemicals, the components of which break down very slowly over time.

There are thousands of PFAS chemicals, and they are found in many different consumer, commercial and industrial products. This makes it challenging to study and assess the potential human health and environmental risks, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals.

As the weather warms up, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recommends Michiganders and visitors avoid foam on Michigan waterbodies such as lakes, rivers and streams.

Foam can form on any waterbody, and sometimes foam can have harmful chemicals in it. This can include high levels of PFAS.

PFAS-containing foam tends to be bright white in color, lightweight and may pile up along shores or blow onto beaches.

An MDHHS evaluation suggests young children who come into contact with PFAS-containing foam for a few hours a day may be more at risk of negative health effects. Some studies in people have shown that higher PFAS exposure is linked to higher cholesterol and thyroid disease.

Natural foam without PFAS is usually off-white and/or brown in color, often has an earthy or fishy scent, and tends to pile up in bays, eddies or at river barriers such as dams.

For those who do come in contact with foam, MDHHS recommends rinsing off or bathing as soon as possible. This is especially true if the waterbody has suspected PFAS contamination. Coming into contact with foam without rinsing off or bathing can lead to accidentally swallowing foam or foam residue.

“Studies have shown that the risk of PFAS getting into your body from skin contact is low, but you can accidentally swallow PFAS or other chemicals and bacteria if you do not rinse off or bathe after coming into contact with foam,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, MDHHS chief medical executive. “Washing your hands and rinsing off after water activities can protect you from chemicals or bacteria that may be in water or foam.”

MDHHS works with local health departments to issue recommendations and health advisories for foam on waterbodies. Health advisories have been issued for some waterbodies where PFAS-containing foam has been found.

These advisories can be found in the “PFAS Foam on Lakes and Streams” section of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team website. MDHHS continues to review data on PFAS-containing foam as it is available and will issue advisories as needed.

To date, foam recommendations and/or advisories have been issued by MDHHS and implemented by local health departments for the following waterbodies: Van Etten Lake, Oscoda, Sept. 1, 2017; Lake Margrethe, Grayling, June 5, 2018; Rogue River, Rockford, June 5, 2018; Thornapple River, Grand Rapids, June 29, 2018; and Huron River, southeast Michigan, Sept. 18, 2018.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development also recommends people do not allow their animals to come into contact or swallow foam on waterbodies. If animals do come in contact with foam, they should be rinsed off and bathed with fresh water, as foam can build up in animal fur. Animal owners with questions related to animals and foam ingestion should contact their veterinarian.

PFAS have been used in practically everything, including carpeting, waterproof clothing, food paper wrappings, upholstery, takeout containers, furniture, some cosmetics and more, according to the Michigan Environmental Council. They were also in a firefighting foam called AFFF, which branches of the armed forces and fire departments used all across the country.

Some forms of PFAS have been phased out of use, but many others are still used widely in commercial products and manufacturing processes today.

Anyone with questions about exposure to PFAS or foam can call the MDHHS Environmental Health hotline at 1-800-648-6942. More information is available on the MPART website at https://www.michigan.gov/pfasresponse.


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