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800 gallons of hazardous firefighting foam spilled at Guard hangar

Hundreds of gallons of firefighting foam spilled in June at a National Guard facility in South Burlington, Vermont, requiring a clean-up of the hazardous substance.

Approximately 800 gallons of aqueous film-forming foam concentrate inadvertently spread in the late hours of June 20 through the Vermont Army Aviation Support Facility, the state’s National Guard shared with Military Times Wednesday.

“We’re still figuring out exactly how all of that happened,” said Maj. Mike Arcovitch, a spokesperson from the Vermont Army National Guard.

Guardsmen returned to work at the hangar after contractors recovered around 650 gallons of the fire suppressant for disposal, Arcovitch said, adding that the remainder entered the sewage system, including a portion that flowed to the South Burlington wastewater facility.

“Clean-up of drain lines, sewer lines between building and the treatment plant is complete,” Col. Jacob Roy, a construction and facilities management officer with the Vermont Guard, said via email. Next, the plan is to flush the sprinkler system and bring in carbon filtration systems to attempt to reduce the overall amount of water that will be disposed of as hazardous waste, he said.

“We have internally started to investigate the cause,” Roy added.

Although Vermont Guard soldiers were not involved in the clean-up process, the foam contained per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” which do not break down easily and are associated with a variety of health issues for service members and others.

The Pentagon has promised that any new firefighting foam it purchases will not contain the dangerous chemicals, and has a requirement to follow a congressionally-mandated rule that it cease using the chemicals no later than October this year.

The news of the spill coincided with a video on social media that, at first glance, appeared to show the hangar filled with foam. However, Arcovitch said the footage was not from the June 20 spill and occurred at a hangar elsewhere.

Another video, this time from the Vermont Guard, showed the June 20 spill. In the clip, the viscous foam concentrate can be seen leaking out of a fire suppression room and onto the floor, surrounding a helicopter in the hangar.

“We stopped using [the firefighting foam] in that facility in 2014,” Arcovitch said, adding that they have since been trying to find a way to get it out of the facility.

This is not the first time that this type of hazardous foam has accidentally discharged at a military installation.

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