A recent accidental dump of firefighting foam into the Farmington River near Bradley International Airport has conservationists concerned.
“It's tremendously upsetting for so many reasons,” said William Dornbos, the executive director of the Farmington Watershed Association, which seeks to preserve and protect the Farmington River. “We’ve been working for decades to protect and restore the river. What we are trying to focus on now is preventing this from happening again.”
Dornbos said there are about 31,000 gallons of water mixed with the firefighting foam that is still in the area of the river known as the lower Farmington. Ironically, this segment of the river was recently designated as a “Wild and Scenic River” by the federal government.
This early on, Dornbos said it’s unclear what the long-term effects of the spill will be on the environment and public health. So far, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has warned citizens not to touch the foam, or to eat fish caught in that area of the river.
The foam contains a hazardous chemical compound known as perfluorinated compounds, or PFAS. PFAS are in a class of pollutants called "forever chemicals," because of the persistence in the environment. Dornbos says environmental officials may have to take drastic measures to properly remove the PFAS from the Farmington.
“What I've been told is that it could entail dredging of the river sediment, and there could be removal of soil from the riverbank, vegetation and soil from the riverbank,” said Dornbos.
Dornbos said this is only one of two such spills on the Farmington in decades, but it could have been a lot worse.
“As tragic as this release was in the lower Farmington River, it's actually fortunate that the spill did not happen further up the river, because the Barkhamsted Reservoir, which is a part of the Farmington River, is the drinking water supply for over a half million people, that includes people who live in the Farmington Valley, and the Greater Hartford area, all the way down to Glastonbury.”
Dornbos said that’s all the more reason to make sure a spill like this never happens again. That means learning more about the firefighting foam and where it is stored in other communities along the Farmington.
"If there are fires or releases of foam can it be contained and prevented from going into the sewer and then going into the river?" he said. "And then more broadly we are going to have to take a close look at the firefighting foam and where it might be stored or used near the river."
Dornbos said the spill near Windsor did not affect the upper Farmington River, which is still safe for canoeing, paddling and fishing.