State health officials warn to avoid any foam on Michigan lakes, rivers

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)

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) recommends that Michiganders and visitors avoid foam on Michigan waterbodies such as lakes, rivers, and streams.

Foam can form on any waterbody and sometimes can have harmful chemicals in it. High levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Foam containing PFAS tends to be bright white in color, lightweight, and may pile up along shores or blow onto beaches.

An MDHHS evaluation suggests that young children who come into contact with PFAS-containing foam for a few hours a day may be more at risk of negative health effects. Some studies in people have shown that higher PFAS exposure is linked to higher cholesterol and thyroid disease.

Natural foam without PFAS is usually off-white and/or brown in color and often has an earthy or fishy scent. This foam usually piles up in bays, eddies, or at river barriers such as dams.

If you do come in contact with the foam, MDHHS recommends that you rinse off or bathe as soon as possible. This is really important especially if the waterbody has suspected PFAS contamination. Coming into contact with foam without rinsing off or bathing can lead to accidentally swallowing foam or foam residue.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, MDHHS chief medical executive, says “Studies have shown that the risk of PFAS getting into your body from skin contact is low, but you can accidentally swallow PFAS or other chemicals and bacteria if you do not rinse off or bathe after coming into contact with foam. Washing your hands and rinsing off after water activities can protect you from chemicals or bacteria that may be in water or foam.”

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) also recommends that people do not allow their animals to come into contact or swallow foam on waterbodies. If animals do come in contact with foam, they should be rinsed off and bathed, as foam can build up in animal fur.

The science around PFAS is still developing. If you have questions or concerns about foam in a waterbody near you or questions in general, you can find more information on this subject on the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team Website.

About the Author:

Morgan is a Digital Editor and has been with WDIV since May of 2022. She graduated from Wayne State University with a degree in political science and communication studies.