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'Elevated' Chemical Contamination Remains Following Spill Into Farmington River

Firefighting foam that spilled into the Farmington River earlier this month.
Firefighting foam that spilled into the Farmington River earlier this month.

The finding comes more than two weeks after an accident at a private aircraft hangar sent thousands of gallons of contaminated water into the river.

The release outside Bradley Airport occurred after an accidental alarm pull at a private aircraft hangar mixed hundreds of gallons of firefighting foam with water.

The contaminated solution made its way into sewage pipes, through a wastewater treatment plant, and, ultimately, poured into the Farmington River.

The firefighting foam contained “PFAS,” a family of chemicals linked to a variety of health issues, including kidney and liver problems.

Ray Frigon, assistant director of remediation at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said Monday recent tests show the visible foam has all but vanished from the Farmington River.

But he said “elevated” levels of PFAS chemicals remain downstream from the spill.

“At this point, we will be collecting additional samples in the next several days to get a better baseline as to where things are at,” Frigon said. “The largest concern at this point in time is the impacts to fish and to fish tissue.”

Frigon and state officials said for at least the next 45 days, anglers shouldn’t eat any fish they catch from the impacted section of the river in Windsor.

But he said that section is safe for recreational use and DEEP officials don’t see “any health impacts” for kayakers or tubers on that portion of the river.

Meanwhile, Frigon said DEEP is working with the Connecticut Airport Authority to better manage PFAS discharges.

Kevin Dillon is the Airport Authority's executive director. He said those conversations include working with hangar tenants to develop temporary fixes that ensure a future spill doesn’t get into waterways.

“We are pressing all of our tenants — not only at Bradley, but at all of the airports that we operate — to submit plans and procedures to us [for] how they’re going to deal with these foam systems,” Dillon said.

“The response that we’ve gotten from our tenants has been very good,” Dillon said. “That has led us to the point where we do believe we have temporary fixes that we can put in place to ensure that a spill never makes its way into a waterway, until we can work on long-term solutions.”

Dillon said the FAA needs to take action for there to be a permanent fix.

That’s because right now, airports are required to have PFAS-foam on hand to fight fires.

“We have competing codes that we’re trying to comply with. We have regulations for the FAA that we have to comply with, that, in some cases, are going against environmental issues,” Dillon said. “I do think the FAA needs to come to grips with the environmental concerns that surround the use of PFAS-containing foams and move quickly to approve other alternatives.”

Dillon said those alternatives include foams that contain lesser amounts of PFAS.

“But we’re looking for products that contain no PFAS,” Dillon said.

Copyright 2019 Connecticut Public Radio

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