Environmental group questions use of “Class B” fire-fighting foam blamed for contamination

By Jason Togyer
The Almanac of the Metro City
July 23, 2021
Posted in: McKeesport and Area News

Residents of the affected area (see red zone on map) were advised to continue not to use tap water for any purpose other than flushing the toilet. Residents of the purple zone have been informed that they can resume water use as normal. (Westmoreland County Municipal Authority Map)


A “do not drink” water advisory remains in effect for some residents of the city’s 10th district after traces of fire fighting foam were found in water samples. About thirty homes and businesses are concerned.

However, the advisory was lifted for most of the neighborhood, said Matt Junker, spokesperson for the Westmoreland County Municipal Authority.

Meanwhile, an environmental group that worked with residents of McKeesport to test the soil for lead contamination on Friday asked why fire departments continued to use foams containing what are known as PFAS – products chemicals linked to low birth weight, nervous system and thyroid disorders, and certain types of cancer.

On Friday afternoon, Junker said further flushing and testing of the water lines would be needed for a small section of the 10th Ward near the site of a large fire on July 16.

During this fire, which involved an auto repair shop and a variety of chemicals and paints, emergency personnel believe fire fighting foam was accidentally sucked into a fire hydrant, contaminating a fire hydrant. part of the water supply.

“The results of a series of flushes and tests on Wednesday indicate that constituents of the fire fighting foam have entered the water system,” Junker said. “Evidence of these contaminants has been detected in the area that continues under the do not use advisory. “

The MAWC said the water should only be used for flushing toilets – not for drinking, cooking, bathing or showering, washing dishes or washing clothes. Boiling the water or allowing it to “settle” does not remove the chemicals, the authority said.

Junker said it might be necessary to enter customer homes to continue flushing the water system. MAWC said that if someone wants to enter a resident’s home, residents must request to see their official ID with the water authority.

“We will continue to drive samples to an accredited laboratory in Lancaster to expedite testing and receipt of results, but these tests can take days,” Junker said. “We would like to thank the residents for their patience as we work to resolve this situation safely as quickly as possible.

The foam used in the July 16 fire at McKeesport Auto Body on Rebecca Street was supplied by a truck from the Pittsburgh International Airport and is referred to as “Class B foam,” which contains products chemicals that smother fires that are not easily extinguished by water.

Friday, Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, Executive Director of Women for a healthy environment, based in the East End of Pittsburgh, suggested that fire departments should reconsider their use of Class B foam, which contains perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

According to US Environmental Protection Agency, “Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body, which means they don’t break down and can build up over time. “

According to the EPA, PFAS are also used in commercial household products, including stain and water repellent fabrics, nonstick cookware, some polishes, waxes and paints, and cleaning products.

“PFAS are linked to cancer, high cholesterol, disruption of thyroid hormones, low birth weight, and many other health issues,” said Naccarati-Chapkis. “How long do we have to put our communities at risk before we ban this foam? “

Class B foam is popular for extinguishing fires caused by gasoline, oil and jet fuel, said Abdul Alobireed, who studied water treatment at the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. .

But Alobireed, who works as an environmental health researcher for Women for a Healthy Environment, said on Friday that “there are safer and more reliable alternatives” to Class B foams, also known as aqueous film-forming foams, or A. -FFF.

“With safer alternatives in hand, regulatory protections must be adopted to ban the use of A-FFF foams and protect local drinking water sources,” he said.

WHE has called on state regulators to ban the use of Class B foams, said Stacy Skiavo, spokesperson for the group.

Four states – Connecticut, California, Washington and New York – already ban firefighting foams containing PFAS, she said. This week the US House of Representatives adopted law this would require stricter federal regulation of the use of PFAS and their presence in drinking water.

The bill, the PFAS Action Act of 2021, was supported by all Democrats and 23 Republicans. U.S. Representative Guy Reschenthaler, Republican from Jefferson Hills, voted against, while U.S. Representative Mike Doyle, Democrat from Forest Hills, did not vote. The bill now goes to the US Senate.

Skiavo said that WHE recommends that fire training academies and fire stations “immediately find safer alternatives and voluntarily stop the use of Class B foam in training exercises to prevent occupational exposure and in fire suppression to protect public health ”.

Junker said the water authority is working closely with state regulators to determine next steps for flushing and testing the water supply to affected homes and businesses.

A tanker truck providing potable and bottled water has been moved to the parking lot of The Elbow Room restaurant on the corner of West Fifth Avenue and Rebecca Street, Junker said.

Water deliveries for the enclosed and disabled can be arranged by calling the McKeesport Fire Department at (412) 675-5021.

Showers for residents of the affected area are available at McKeesport Area High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd., between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. In cooperation with the Town of McKeesport, shuttles for these showers run daily between 9 a.m. and noon, and between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Buses will pick up at the corner of West Fifth and Rebecca at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m., and 6 p.m. All children must be accompanied by an adult, Junker said.


Jason Togyer is Editor-in-Chief of Tube City Almanac and Volunteer Executive Director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He can be reached at [email protected]

Originally published July 23, 2021.

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