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The Great Lakes region is blessed with an abundance of water. But water quality, affordability, and aging water infrastructure are vulnerabilities that have been ignored for far too long. In this series, members of the Great Lakes News Collaborative, Michigan Public, Bridge Michigan, Great Lakes Now, The Narwhal, and Circle of Blue, explore what it might take to preserve and protect this precious resource. This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Health officials warn: Don't touch the foam

Foam caused by PFAS contamination at one of the many sites in the state where the "forever" chemicals have been found.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Foam caused by PFAS contamination at one of the many sites in the state where the "forever" chemicals have been found.

If you’re spending some time in the water, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services wants you to remember: Don’t touch the foam.

There’s natural foam in lakes, rivers, and streams, but there’s also foam caused by PFAS contamination. It’s hard to tell the difference.

“The recommendation that we have for any foam on any water body is to just avoid it as best you can,” said Joost van ’t Erve, a toxigologist with the health agency.

He said touching the foam is not so much the problem. It’s after you touch it and then accidentally get it on your food or a child puts their fingers in their mouth.

“And if you do happen to be in contact with it, it’s important to just rinse it off as quickly as you can.”

Repeated exposure to chemicals in the PFAS family can cause liver damage, thyroid damage and many other health effects.

Additionally, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development suggests you keep your animals away from the foam. While swimming in it they might swallow some of it or get it on their fur and then lick it off while grooming themselves.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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