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DEM Program Assists Fire Departments with the Removal of Legacy Fire-Fighting Foams

Foams manufactured before 2003 pose a threat to water supplies and public health and require proper removal and disposal.

PROVIDENCE The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is reaching out to fire departments across Rhode Island to assist with the removal and disposal of legacy fire-fighting foams. Aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) made before 2003 contain certain per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that have the potential to move through the environment and contaminate groundwater and drinking water sources, and therefore require proper removal and disposal.

"DEM is committed to protecting Rhode Island's water resources and drinking water supplies from contamination by the toxic compounds found in fire-fighting foam, and we look forward to working with local fire departments through this new initiative," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "If not properly disposed of, this material poses a serious threat to the health and safety of our environment. We need to look no further than the Oakland-Mapleville Water District in Burrillville, where drinking water supplies were contaminated by fire-fighting foam that wasn't disposed of the right way."

To help Rhode Island fire departments dispose of current inventories of the so-called "legacy foam," DEM's Office of Emergency Response (OER) has secured a bulk rate from New England Disposal Technologies Inc. for the removal and incineration of the foam from fire department stockpiles. Although individual fire departments are responsible for removal and disposal costs, DEM will streamline the pick-up of the materials if needed. To minimize costs, DEM will designate one centralized location in each of Rhode Island's five counties where fire departments can drop off their inventory of AFFF with the disposal contractor. Using centralized locations and economies of scale will save all participating fire departments time and money. This fall DEM sent letters to all Rhode Island fire departments to make them aware of the program.

Manufacturers stopped making the suspect foams in 2002 and have since developed formulations of AFFF with different types of PFAS that they believe have less of an impact on the environment. However, the environmental and health impacts from exposure to these other PFAS compounds have not been fully investigated. DEM is advising fire departments that these materials need to be stored properly; best management practices include storing containers of AFFF in containment areas and away from drains. In addition, DEM strongly recommends that fire departments use safer training foams that do not contain PFAS for training exercises and limit the use of AFFF to actual fire incidents.

DEM is asking all Rhode Island fire departments to either take steps on their own to ensure proper disposal of legacy foams or email for assistance with pick up. For more information or questions, call Jim Ball, Chief of DEM's Office of Emergency Response at 222-4700, ext. 7129.

For more information on DEM programs and services, visit Follow DEM on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) or Facebook at for timely updates.

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  • Department or agency: Department of Environmental Management
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  • Release date: 11-01-2019

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