QUEENSBURY — Warren County has purchased equipment for its firefighting apparatus at the county airport to stop the spread of a chemical that is suspected of causing health problems.
A foam used to fight aircraft fires contains fluorinated chemicals, which can include PFOA and PFOS, but the county airport staff has purchased a $30,000 piece of equipment that is being used to keep the chemicals from being discharged into the environment.
PFOA and PFOS have gotten scrutiny in recent years for their possible health effects on humans, including cancer and immune system problems. They are present in the foam that is used at airports to fight fires involving aviation fuel.
Airport staff members are required to test the equipment twice a year by spraying the foam. But Warren County Public Works Superintendent Kevin Hajos said airport management was apprised of the chemical concerns and instructed to take action to prevent discharging the foam during the tests.
Don DeGraw, the county’s airport manager, said the foam does not contain PFOA or PFOS, but the fluorinated chemicals in the foam can “degrade” to a substance that includes those chemicals when the foam is exposed to the environment.
He said the Federal Aviation Administration notified airport staff in January that a piece of equipment was available to minimize risks during tests of the equipment using chemical foam, and the county decided to purchase the equipment.
“We wanted to be proactive about it,” he said.
He said the device allows for testing of the water and chemical storage tanks on the equipment without discharge of the chemicals.
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“It isolates the foam so no foam is being pumped out,” DeGraw said.
While federal grants are available for much of the equipment purchased at the airport, there was no grant funding available for the purchase, DeGraw said.
Before public consciousness of PFOA contamination was raised in recent years, airport staff used to spray the firefighting material on the grounds during the tests, in various locations on the airport grounds. But it’s not believed that the chemicals got into the wetlands or waterway from that location, Hajos and DeGraw said.
“If we shot a gallon or two during a test, that would be a lot,” DeGraw said.
But going forward, the chemical will not be used unless there is an actual fire. The FAA is working on coming up with a firefighting alternative that does not include hazardous chemicals.
PFOA contamination was found last year in two wells in Kingsbury, just east of the airport, but it was believed to have originated with a company in a nearby industrial park and not the airport. Wells on property around the airport were tested and not found to have any contamination, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said last year.
Claudia Braymer, Glens Falls 3rd Ward supervisor who chairs the Warren County Board of Supervisors Environmental Concerns & Real Property Tax Services Committee, said she plans to ask the DEC to have a representative come to a future committee meeting to discuss the PFOA situation on and around the airport.