By Sydney Dawes
A new $3 million statewide initiative to collect and destroy stockpiled firefighting foam containing hazardous per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) launched this week.
The new Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) Takeback Program will operate in partnership between the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, State Fire Marshal’s Office and science and technology company Battelle.
AFFF will be exposed to supercritical water oxidation, which effectively destroys AFFF and PFAS-contaminated wastewater to non-detectable levels, according to a governor’s office release.
PFAS are a group of powerful, toxic chemicals created to be resistant to heat and other elements. PFAS are very difficult to break down due to their chemical composition, which consists of strong bonds of fluorine and carbon atoms. For this reason, they are often referred to as “forever chemicals.” Research shows PFAS have links to a few kinds of cancer, thyroid dysfunction, reproductive harm and other health concerns.
The program will be open to all Ohio fire departments, local governments, and government-owned airports. Battelle and its subcontractor, Revive Environmental Technology, will provide program management, technical expertise, and analytical laboratory support.
“Until now, fire departments have had no way to safely dispose of this toxic foam,” said Gov. Mike DeWine. “With this new program, we’ll now be able to completely destroy AFFF to prevent dangerous exposure to PFAS and avoid environmental contamination.”
Dayton Fire Department and Dayton firefighters’ union officials did not return requests for comment about the new initiative.
A Dayton Daily News investigation found that 15 of the region’s public water systems, which supply drinking water to hundreds of thousands of residents, have levels of PFAS that exceed a new legal limit of 4 parts per trillion (ppt) for the group of chemicals.
A major contributor to groundwater contamination from PFAS in this area is runoff from firefighting foam used over decades at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Dayton International Airport because of its ability to extinguish jet fuel fires. This is one reason PFAS levels are particularly high under the base, water quality experts have said.
Dayton International Airport did not return a request for comment about the takeback program.
The takeback project is funded with settlement money that Ohio received as part of the state’s polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) enforcement case against Monsanto, which was filed by then-Attorney General DeWine in 2018.
“The Ohio EPA appreciates and shares Governor DeWine’s commitment to making Ohioans healthier. I am excited to partner with Battelle as we continue to address the environmental and health risks associated with ‘forever chemicals’ and we look forward to rolling out this take-back program across the state to remove this potential source of future contamination,” said Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel.
State Fire Marshal Kevin Reardon said the initiative is a significant step toward ensuring the safety of communities and protection of the environment.
“Fire departments across the state can now remove these compounds from their shelves with confidence, knowing they will be securely and effectively remediated,” he said.