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State health official: Don't touch toxic water foam

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
Signs warn boaters and fishermen of the dangers of eating fish from the Huron River at Central Park in Millford on Wednesday, Sept 26, 2018 .

Michigan residents should not touch any foam in waters near sites contaminated by "forever chemicals" known as PFAS, a state health official said Tuesday.

The updated guidance followed warnings last year that residents should not ingest foam on waterways contaminated by the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. It was at least the second shift in health advice for residents about how to deal with the foam.

The topic was recently discussed at a meeting in Oscado regarding Van Etten Lake, but the warning applies to all "bodies of water with PFAS foam," said Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's not a new advisory, just a simplified message," Sutfin said. "We have always told people not to ingest the foam and to wash if they got it on them. Now we are saying don't touch or avoid the foam. This is to prevent incidental ingestion by transferring it from your hands onto food and then into your mouth."

PFAS has links to health risks such as thyroid disease, increased cholesterol levels, and kidney and testicular cancers.

This is the latest shift by state health officials, who in September said visitors should "avoid swallowing foam on the water during recreational activities" on the Huron River, which runs through Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties.

In August, they had said it wasn't a "health concern" if people occasionally swallowed river or lake the water.

The state has identified more than 45 sites with PFAS contamination, including the Selfridge Air Force National Guard base in Harrison Township near Lake St. Clair.

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