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HomeHealthChemical foam spill in Batavia will not impact human health

Chemical foam spill in Batavia will not impact human health

A report from the Illinois Department of Public Health found that the firefighting foam spill into Batavia’s Mahoney Creek will not have a negative impact on residents’ health.
On March 8, a malfunctioning firefighting system at a Flint Group building on North Kirk Road in Batavia spilled firefighting foam into a stormwater retention pond at the site, officials have said. A separate issue caused the pond’s valve to open, draining the foam into the city’s stormwater system and, eventually, into Mahoney Creek, according to officials.
While the malfunctioning firefighting system was found and stopped on March 8, it wasn’t until March 11 that the leak into Mahoney Creek was discovered, officials said. By then, foam could be seen floating down the river.
City of Batavia officials originally warned residents to stay away from the creek, since the firefighting foam contained a class of chemicals known as PFAS, which are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals.” These chemicals break down slowly in the environment and the body, and they are known to cause health effects like immune system issues and cancer.
While tests did find multiple PFAS chemicals, specifically PFOA and PFOS, the Illinois Department of Public Health determined in the report that “exposure to the levels of PFAS in soil and water along Mahoney Creek is not expected to harm people’s health.”
Even if someone comes in physical contact with the water or soil, or if they accidentally ingest some of the water, they should have no short- or long-term health impacts, the report determined.
That determination was made after the department’s Division of Environmental Health, Toxicology Section, reviewed the results of water and soil samples from around the creek taken between March 14 and April 4 by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the city of Batavia and Flint Group.
The state report was sent to the city of Batavia on Monday, according to a news release from the city.
“The city of Batavia is relieved to receive the findings in this letter and we appreciate everyone’s due diligence and the public’s patience as we awaited the interpretation of the results,” Laura Newman, Batavia city administrator, said in the release.
A full copy of the report can be found on the city’s webpage dedicated to the incident: bataviail.gov/mahoneyfoam
Using water and soil samples with the highest concentration of PFAS chemicals, which were the tests taken on March 14, health officials used a tool from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to estimate people’s exposure to the chemicals in the creek.
To make their estimates, officials assumed that residents 6 years old or older could be exposed to the soil near Mahoney Creek two days per week, 39 weeks per year, for 33 years, or that those same people could be exposed to creek water for one hour per day, 12 days per year for 33 years.
Health officials also took possible ingestion of water into account when making their calculations.
After calculating the amount of exposure people would have over those amounts of time, the exposure levels were compared to the safe levels set by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry or by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
While the calculations showed that residents will not have any health effects if they spend the assumed time in contact with the creek, the calculations were based on samples that were taken days after the foam was first spilled, meaning that those who came into contact with the creek before March 14 may have been exposed to higher levels of PFAS, the report said.
However, there were no reports of residents being exposed to the creek during that time, officials said in the report.
On the flip side, PFAS levels dropped between March 14 and April 4, and since the estimates used the March 14 samples to estimate exposure levels over 33 years, it is possible that the results are an overestimate of how many chemicals residents would be exposed to, according to the report.
Another limitation of the report is that it does not consider the chemical foam’s impact on wildlife in or around Mahoney Creek, health officials said in the report. Batavia residents voiced their concerns about the spill’s impact on wildlife at a town hall meeting held by the city on April 29.
At the town hall, Flint Group Vice President Tim Angel said the facility spent the “first several weeks” after the spill totally focused on fixing the problem.
Flint Group is a global manufacturer of print and packaging materials.
In total, roughly 700 gallons of foam leaked into the city’s stormwater system that led to Mahoney Creek, according to Angel. Of that foam, only around 3% was Ansulite Low Viscosity 3×3 AR-AFFF Foam Concentrate, and of that concentrate, only about 1% was made up of PFAS chemicals, he said.
To prevent future leaks, the faulty valve that the foam leaked through is being replaced with a manual valve that can only be operated by a single person at the facility, Angel said at the meeting.
Residents at the town hall criticized the response to the spill by the city and Flint Group, and city administrator Newman said that city staff will be taking a look back at the city’s response to figure out how it could have handled the situation differently.
One major concern from residents who spoke at the town hall was the PFAS chemicals leaking into nearby residential wells. One resident who lived nearby said they do not have the funds to connect to city water and are concerned that their wells are now contaminated with the chemicals.
The Kane County Health Department is working to coordinate free water testing for private wells within 200 feet of Mahoney Creek, according to Uche Onwuta, director of the Kane County Health Department’s Division of Health Protection.
In an email, Onwuta said the department is scheduling these tests for homeowners and that department staff will be on site to observe sample collection to make sure it is done correctly.
The initial testing will provide a baseline PFAS concentration in the wells, then another test will be conducted three months later, Onwuta said.
Homeowners will receive a letter from the Illinois Department of Public Health explaining the results of the tests, and once all private wells have been tested, department officials will make a report similar to the one it recently completed about PFAS levels in Mahoney Creek, officials said.
Batavia city officials have previously said that the foam spill did not impact the city’s drinking water, as the city’s groundwater wells are located far from the spill.
The city of Aurora’s drinking water was also not impacted by the spill, despite the fact that Mahoney Creek drains into the Fox River, where Aurora gets some of its water from, according to past reporting.
Now, the city of Batavia is waiting on a report from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that will outline any legal violations that Flint Group will be held accountable for and a plan to clean up from the spill.
Initial cleanup efforts began on March 15 after Flint Group hired Clean Harbors, an environmental cleanup contractor.
Clean Harbors’ crews installed booms, which sit on top of the water and trap the foam, at locations throughout the creek. Then, when foam built up around the booms, the crews would come out and vacuum up the foam into tanks, which they then took to the Flint Group site in Batavia.
The foam vacuumed up by the crews has remained on site in holding tanks, Angel said at the April 29 town hall meeting.
rsmith@chicagotribune.com

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