People urged to avoid potentially toxic foam on bodies of water


LANSING, Mich. -- As Memorial Day Weekend and hotter temperatures grows closers, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is encouraging swimmer, boaters, anglers, and anyone else using the waterways this summer to avoid foam on Michigan lakes, rivers and streams.

MDHHS officials say foam can form on any body of water and that natural foam is usually off-white and/or brown. This foam can have an earthy or fishy scent, and tends to pile up in bays, eddies or at river barriers, such as dams.

This foam, while still possibly containing bacteria, is much less harmful than the bright white foam that can sometimes be seen floating on the surface.

"Sometimes foam can contain harmful chemicals or bacteria. This can include high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)," the MDHHS said. "PFAS-containing foam is usually bright white in color, lightweight and can pile up along shores or blow onto beaches. Some studies have found that high exposure to some PFAS is linked to high cholesterol and liver damage, among other health effects."

Anyone who touches the foam is encouraged to rinse off or bathe as soon as possible.

"This is especially true if the water is suspected to be contaminated with PFAS," the MDHHS said. "Touching foam without rinsing off or bathing can lead to accidentally swallowing foam and its contents."

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development recommends that people don't let their animals to touch or swallow foam either. 

“Science tells us that the risk of PFAS entering your body through your skin is low, but you can accidentally swallow PFAS and other chemicals or bacteria if you do not rinse off or bathe after touching foam,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive. “Rinsing off or bathing after water activities will help protect people from chemicals and bacteria that may be in foam or water.”

Anyone with questions about exposure to PFAS or foam can call the MDHHS Environmental Health Hotline at 800-648-6942.

Pet owners with questions related to animals and foam should contact their veterinarian.

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