PFAS in Foam on the Huron River Water Trail

As the emerging threat of PFAS has unfolded across Michigan and on the Huron River, it’s raised concerns about recreation.

Swimming, bathing, and boating on the Huron River Water Trail are still okay. For those activities, continue to enjoy the water as you have with a few minor precautions. PFAS isn’t

Foam that possibly contains PFAS

Photo of foam from 2013 that possibly contains PFAS, near Barton Dam, Ann Arbor, by Rebecca Foster.

a health risk when exposed to skin. The risk is that high levels of PFAS in foam can get on your hands and clothes and eventually make it into your mouth or nose. It’s a health risk when ingested over time, so accidental mouthfuls of river water are no cause for concern. The State of Michigan has issued a Do Not Eat Fish advisory for the Huron River and an advisory to avoid ingesting river foam.

PFAS tends to concentrate in foam and can lead to foam forming on the river, but foam is also naturally occurring. State experts and resources describe PFAS foam as bright white, sticky, lightweight, and that it tends to pile up near the water’s edge. Other harmless substances can create similar foam, however, and there’s really no practical way to know how much PFAS is in any glob of foam just by looking at it. It’s best to play it safe and treat all foam on the river as potentially containing high levels of PFAS. If you find foam you suspect is not naturally occurring, call the state’s 24-hour pollution hotline at (800) 292-4706.

Enjoy the River While Protecting Yourself from PFAS Foam

  • Have fun swimming and boating on the river away from foam. Skin contact with river water or foam isn’t a concern.  Accidental mouthfuls of river water or no cause for alarm.
  • Avoid foam on the Huron River or connected lakes and creeks. Avoid touching foam and make sure to keep pets and kids away from foam. PFAS tends to concentrate in foam.
  • Foam naturally occurs on rivers and PFAS tends to concentrate in foam, but there’s no way to know how much PFAS is in any glob of foam just by looking at it. It’s best to play it safe and treat all foam on the river as potentially containing high levels of PFAS.
  • Although it feels nice on a hot summer day, don’t linger in the spray immediately below dams. It may be possible to inhale PFAS attached to foam spray.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water and rinse off once you get home from paddling or swimming in the river.
  • Rinse off pets if they made contact with foam or foamy water. Rinsing off in the same river or lake where foam isn’t present is okay.

For more information on PFAS in the Huron River watershed, visit the Huron River Watershed Council’s webpage at HRWC.org/PFAS.

 

Know Before You Go: 4 Tips for a Safe Paddle Trip

The Huron River National Water Trail winds through natural areas, traverses historic cities, and ends at Pointe Mouillee on Lake Erie. Paddlers of all skill levels can find a place to refresh themselves along its length, but remember to prepare before you go and be smart as you enjoy your trip.2018 Huron River Day, Gallup Park, Ann Arbor, by Karissa Brumley

Get to know the river before you go
Plan your trip in advance, tell others about your plan, and stick to the plan. For longer trips, plan for restroom breaks and stay within your group’s fitness limits. A safe estimate of travel speed on the Huron is walking speed—about 2-4 miles per hour. Scout the river as best you can before you go and consider paddling with someone more experienced. Be especially careful around dams and obstacles that can trap you against the current.

Know the conditions
Conditions on the Huron River can change rapidly. Pay attention to all safety warnings and check the weather before you go. River and weather conditions are available HERE, and it’s best to call the OUTFITTERS on the stretch of river you’ll be paddling. During fair weather weekends, stay visible and be prepared for high boat traffic on impounded lakes.

Bring the proper gear
Always wear a lifejacket. The Huron River is shallow in sections but people have been carried away by less than a foot of moving water or caught up in trees and vegetation. Just as when hiking into the wilderness, pack plenty of water, food, a flashlight, and a whistle. A sponge, bilge pump, or bailor can help you keep excessive water out of your boat. A paddle tether can keep you from drifting uncontrollably if you accidentally drop your paddle. Always carry a map. A waterproof Paddler’s Companion will give you detailed section maps of the entire water trail. You can purchase one HERE.

Be smart and courteous
Keep your craft under control. Give paddlers traveling upstream the right of way, and always ask other groups of paddlers before passing them on the river. Remember that anglers need plenty of space and that sound carries over water. Respect landowners along the river. Don’t trespass and use only designated restrooms.

For more information about staying safe on the Huron River National Water Trail, go to SAFETY & ETIQUETTE.

PFAS and Recreation on the Huron River

It is Safe to Swim and Boat.

As the emerging threat of PFAS has unfolded across Michigan and on the Huron River, it’s raised concerns about recreation.

Swimmers at Baseline Lake

Swimmers at Baseline Lake in Dexter.

The good news is that swimming and boating on the Huron River Water Trail are still okay. For those activities, we can continue to enjoy the water as we have. PFAS isn’t a health risk when exposed to skin. It’s a health risk when ingested over time, so accidental mouthfuls of river water are no cause for concern.

The bad news is that the State of Michigan has issued a Do Not Eat Fish Advisory for the entire river.  Anglers should not eat any fish from the Huron River or the connected waterways for the foreseeable future. We expect that advisory will remain in place for several years.

The state also issued a second advisory telling people not to ingest river foam. Those of us with pets or small children should stay away from river foam when possible and avoid lingering below dams or where foam tends to occur. PFAS concentrates in foam. That said, foam is naturally occurring on the river and not all foam is PFAS foam, but it’s often impossible to know the difference by looking at it. Wash your hands and rinse off after making contact with foamy water. Rinsing with non-foamy river water is okay.

As we head into the 2019 paddling season, there are many encouraging signs. PFAS levels were much higher on the Huron River during the late summer of 2018. One of the major sources of PFAS to the river took steps to reduce its discharge of PFAS chemicals, and contamination levels on the river have dropped significantly.

General PFAS Advisory Poster for HRWT Partners

There are likely several other lesser sources, and the Huron River Watershed Council is working with state and local partners to identify those sources, reduce contamination to the river, and inform paddlers on the Water Trail. Visit HRWC.org/PFAS for updated information.

HRWC has created an informational flyer, at left, for outfitters and other Water Trail Partners who provide river-related services to the public. It is also available as a larger poster. Contact Daniel Brown at dbrown@hrwc.org if you need one to post at your place of business.