Last fall Anthony Spaniola discovered a white foam had washed up on the shore of his family’s cottage on Van Etten Lake in Oscoda.
“It’s unusual and it’s kind of sticky, and it piles up and it’s a little bit sudsy looking,” says Spaniola. “It’s something that would probably attract a child… but it’s not something you’d want your child playing in.”
Spaniola knew exactly what that funny looking foam was.
“Maybe it wasn’t quite panic, but it was a feeling of dread,” he says.
The foam is a byproduct of fire-fighting spray that soaked into the ground at the decommissioned Wurtsmith Air Force base, just across Van Etten Lake from Spaniola’s place. The old Air Force base used fire-fighting foam for decades to train troops how to put out airplane and vehicle fires. That fire retardant contains chemicals known as polyflouroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
PFAS chemicals are in many common and household products – non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabric, and some paints and food packaging. PFAS were developed by 3M and DuPont decades ago, and made products more efficient.
That was the case with the Hush Puppies manufactured in Rockford, Michigan.
The leather shoes were waterproofed with Scotchguard, which contains PFAS that leached into the ground at the dumping sights of for manufacturer Wolverine Worldwide.
Wolverine, DuPont and 3M all knew the chemicals were harmful far before the public.