Health officials: Avoid foam on Michigan lakes, rivers with PFAS contamination

People are urged to avoid foam comprised of manmade chemicals that can pose a health risk

PFAS foam built up along the edge of a body of water in Michigan. Photo provided by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). (EGLE)

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is warning Michigan residents to avoid foam on Michigan lakes and rivers that have per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the water.

PFAS are manmade chemicals that can build up in the water and are resistant to oil and water. PFAS foam rests on the surface of the water and can be identified as sticky, bright white, usually lightweight, tends to pile up like shaving cream and can blow on the beach, officials said.

An example of PFAS foam buildup along the edge of a body of water in Michigan. Photo provided by the state's Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) department. (EGLE)

Officials say that PFAS could pose a health risk, especially if the foam is swallowed.

PFAS do not move easily through the skin, but MDHHS officials say repeated, prolonged whole-body contact with PFAS foam could create a health risk. Repeated prolonged exposure is considered three hours a day, five days a week over three months of the year according to MDHHS.

“Although, current science indicates PFAS does not move easily through the skin, it’s best to rinse off foam after contact and bathe or shower after the day’s outdoor activities,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. “None of this information changes recommendations for water use at home.”

Officials say it is safe to swim in water with PFAS because the amount of the chemicals are typically much less concentrated in the water than they are in the foam. Accidentally swallowing river or lake water with PFAS is not a health concern, according to MDHHS.

The state of Michigan has issued indefinite health advisories for the following lakes and streams that have PFAS foam:

  • Van Etten Lake, Oscoda
  • Lake Margrethe, Grayling
  • Rogue River, Rockford
  • Thornapple River, Grand Rapids
  • Huron River, Southeast Michigan

Officials also urge pet owners to keep their pets away from PFAS foam.

Naturally-occurring foam also exists on lakes and rivers and is organic matter created by decomposing plants. Click here for tips from the state to help you identify if the foam is naturally-occurring or PFAS foam.

Anyone with additional questions can contact the MDHHS hotline at 800‑648‑6942.


About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.