UPDATE: Material Safety Data Sheets for various types of firefighting foam have been added at the end of the article.
We have obtained an account from a correspondent in the near northern suburbs of Chicago of a local Fire Department crew dumping toxic fire retardant foam into the north branch of the Chicago River.
The incident took place last night, August 17th, 2012 around 8:15 PM in the parking lot behind Dominick’s and the Salvation Army store at the corner of Dempster Ave. and Waukegan Rd. in Morton Grove.
Our correspondent was leaving the Cook County Forest Preserve at the time and happened upon a strange scene: 3 or 4 fire trucks hosing something down with fire retardant foam. He thought it must have been a car fire, seeing as it was a parking lot. But, as he approached the scene it appeared that some kind of training exercise was going on. Some younger firefighters were spraying foam around the lot practically right over a drain which empties into a stream which runs directly into the Chicago River.
You can see the large puddle of foam in the parking lot in this photo. There are two drains in that section of the lot, both of which empty into a beautiful little stream that runs into the Chicago River.
Our correspondent states that he heard one of the firefighters say: “I’m going to do a rainbow!” and then the firefighter started spraying foam up into the air in a big arc, with the foam splashing down right where you see the big puddle of foam in this photo.
This photo shows the large pool of foam spread across the parking lot. This space shown in the photo is approximately 20 feet by 30 feet.
Our correspondent states that he definitely saw the “Morton Grove” markings on the trucks, as well as the fact that the trucks were marked “Division 27” or “Section 27” or something -27.
He was absolutely astonished by the sight of a fire department doing something so stupid. Fire retardant foam is not something you would want to drink, or to serve up to living critters like fish and animals like birds, deer and raccoons, all of which live in large numbers in this forest preserve. Endangered birds, like herons fish in this river. Raccoons eat shellfish they take from it; of course all these animals drink the water; and of course fish live in it. People fish in this river and occasionally eat the fish, as well.
What does a working class citizen do when they observe such incredibly stupid actions being taken by public employees? Our correspondent pulled out his cell phone and started taking photos. As soon as he did that, one of the fire trucks flashed its lights as if as a signal, and the crew packed up and left.
Then, our correspondent started calling non-emergency numbers to alert environmental agencies about this illegal dumping. And this is where the story gets even worse. You see, it was a Friday night, and most of the so-called “emergency numbers” for organizations like the Illinois EPA and Greenpeace were unattended. So, he left email and voice messages on them. Then he called the Forest Preserve District of Cook County Police Department to report the incident. He spoke with an officer named “Fatima” or something like that (he had no notepaper to write down names; these are phonetic respellings from memory the next day). He told the officer what he had seen. The officer said: “That’s weird. We have no notice that they were going to do that. Normally, if they’re going to do something like that, they let us know in advance”!
So, it would appear that it is the policy of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County to allow towns to dump toxic material into the streams in the Forest Preserves, so long as they notify the FPDCC beforehand! No paperwork necessary; and if a citizen calls in a report, then they can just dismiss it and not even fill out any report on it.
Our correspondent called and/or emailed about 5 or 6 different “environmental” agencies and as of this writing (4:00 PM the next day) he has received not a single phone call from any one of them. They include the Sierra Club; the Forest Preserve District of Cook County; Illinois Department of Natural Resources; the Illinois EPA office in Chicago; Greenpeace and the “Chicago Wilderness” organization.
When he called the “311” non-emergency number to report the dumping, the operator stated that “this is Chicago, we have to transfer you to Morton Grove” and then transferred the call to the Morton Grove police department’s emergency number. “They seemed to not care at all about it” our correspondent stated. They tried to give me the phone number to the Morton Grove Fire Department”.
Today, our correspondent visited the site again, about 12 hours after the dumping took place, and he found that there was still foam in the parking lot! He submitted the following photos to us.
In this photo you can see the drain the Morton Grove FD trucks were surrounding and into which the majority of the fire retardant foam poured into.
When our correspondent looked into this drain he could see a puddle of foam still in the bottom of the drain.
Next, he went down the slope further towards the forest preserve and took a photo of the next drain:
This drain, too, had residues of the foam still evident almost 12 hours later.
Now, it was time to see how far into the forest preserve watershed this foam had flowed. Our intrepid correspondent, camera in hand, entered the forest preserve and looked into the culvert that empties from the parking lot directly into the stream that runs into the north branch of the Chicago River, and saw this:
Here are a selection of Material Safety Data Sheets on various types of fire foam products. These were obtained from their respective manufacturer websites.
All of these MSDS caution against release of the foam in any form into waterways. The foam has varying degrees of toxicity for fish. Toxicity of these foams in aquatic life has only been tested in a handful of fish species and toxicity has been found to be highly species-dependent.
[To Be Continued]