Gov. Eric Holcomb said a voluntary program to collect firefighting foam containing toxic PFAS chemicals from state fire agencies was one of his administration’s top agenda priorities this year.
The Indiana Class B PFAS Foam Collection Initiative, a program launched by the state’s Department of Environmental Management and Department of Homeland Security, will collect and dispose of PFAS firefighting foam from fire agencies that participate in the program at no cost.
“I’m pretty proud of this,” Holcomb said during the unveiling of his 2022 agenda Monday. “[Indiana] is one of four states that has formed a partnership to collect and dispose of PFAS foam, which was outlawed a couple years ago. The state of Indiana will be contracting someone who will then collect and safely dispose of this foam. That’s ongoing right now. The bidding is out right now.”
PFAS chemicals have been used since the 1940s to make products resistant to grease, fire and water. Since the 1970s, the chemicals have been used to manufacture aqueous film-forming foam and other firefighting foam to extinguish fires caused by flammable and combustible liquids like gas, oil, grease and solvents.
The chemicals are useful, but have been linked to serious health effects like increased risk of developing kidney or testicular cancer, increased cholesterol levels, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, decreased birth weight and decreased vaccine response in children.
PFAS chemicals are persistent, meaning they are extremely resistant to environmental and metabolic degradation and do not break down, meaning they can remain in the environment for a very long time. The chemicals also accumulate in human bodies over time.
Researchers have found elevated levels of PFAS chemicals in firefighters and other occupationally exposed groups.
The Indiana General Assembly, with the support of the Professional Firefighters Union of Indiana, Indiana Fire Chiefs Association and the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association, banned the use of PFAS foam during firefighter training in 2020.
IDEM and IDHS launched the collection program the next year to help agencies get rid of their firefighting foam.
“Safety is the common thread in everything we do, from our building and regulated device inspections to the high-quality training provided to firefighters across the state. When it comes to Indiana law, the wellbeing of firefighters and all public safety personnel stands at the center of all legislative priorities supported by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security,” said Indiana State Fire Marshal Joel M. Thacker. “Too many firefighters today face additional health hazards beyond the daily risks of their jobs, and this is an unnecessary risk for these public servants.”
In November, IDHS and IDEM asked fire agencies in the state to report the amount of PFAS foam they had at their agencies or on their trucks to determine the scale of the program and develop strategies to collect the material.
IDEM told the Indiana Environmental Reporter that once a contractor is selected for the program, contracted companies will be required to dispose of the PFAS foam at an approved hazardous waste landfill in Indiana or another state. The companies will be required to submit a disposal plan for pre-approval by the agency.
At the federal level, the Department of Defense has set a deadline of Oct. 1, 2024 for the military services to phase out the use of PFAS firefighting foam on land.
PFAS firefighting foam use in military installations around the U.S. has led to contamination being detected on base and in some surrounding communities.
PFAS was detected in small amounts in ground water at several military installations in Indiana, but none exceeded the EPA’s existing lifetime health advisories for PFAS chemicals.
The DoD previously contracted two Indiana companies to destroy stockpiles of PFAS firefighting foam out of state, but the agency cancelled the contracts after communities near the incineration sites sued due to environmental and health concerns.
The U.S. imposed a temporary moratorium on DoD PFAS incineration and established several reporting requirements for PFAS foam use on military installations.