Ecology Department will help fire departments get rid of toxic foam

It’s already responsible for contaminating water in Airway Heights, and now the Washington Department of Ecology is trying to get it out of other fire stations across the state.

The state restricted the use of the toxic firefighting foam back in 2018, leaving many fire stations with an extra supply. Thanks to funding provided by the Legislature, the Department of Ecology will be able to help these stations out.

RELATED: Airway Heights residents asked to participate in water exposure study

As a firefighter, responding to danger is part of the everyday job.

“We already had one line of duty death,” said Brian Schaeffer, City of Spokane Fire Chief.

However, Schaeffer said this death could have been prevented

“I can tell you our cancers in the department are on the rise,” said Schaeffer.

While the exact cause has not yet been determined, firefighters said part of the risk is being exposed to toxic chemicals, including a substance called PFAS.

“They’re used in firefighting foams. They make the foams work a lot better and help put out petroleum fires,” said Andy Wineke with the Washington State Department of Ecology.

There have been a few cases across the state where the chemicals have gotten into people’s water supply, including out in Airway Heights.

The state restricted its use in 2018, leaving many fire departments with a supply they don’t know how to get rid of. That’s where the Washington Department of Ecology is stepping in.

“We’re going to help them safely get rid of them. It’s going to go into incineration, and then they can switch to a non-fluorinated foam,” said Wineke.

The Department of Ecology plans on taking the foam to a licensed hazardous waste incinerator in Utah, Texas, or Arkansas.

They’re asking fire officials to complete a survey on their website, so that they can get an idea of how much material is out there.