The Case of the Fugitive Foam


This is another installment in our series of posts about illegal dumping cases. Need a backgrounder on our illegal dumping program? We’ve got a blog post about that!

Part of our job at Public Health Madison & Dane County is to investigate illegally dumped materials to find out what the contaminant was, who is responsible, and to correct any remaining threat. This means we’re following up on complaints all day long at any gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in the area (sorry, we couldn’t resist).

While out in the field working on another case, Rick, our Environmental Protection Lead Worker, got a call about a possible situation in the area. The caller said a type of foam, like Styrofoam, was coming out of a construction site. Rick went to investigate and found foam in the gutter and littered all over the construction site (see image below). 

Foam particles scattered in the gutter from rasping large foam blocks
Foam particles from rasping large foam blocks

 After talking to the contractor, he learned they were applying block-form foam insulation to the exterior of the building. To get it to fit, this meant cutting down larger blocks. If you’ve ever broken a piece of foam from a shipping container, you know how much of a mess this can make. When the contractor cut the foam, it scattered everywhere in the wind.

We discussed ways to contain the foam with the contractor. They agreed to put up plastic barriers to contain the foam while they were working (see image below).

New plastic sheeting keeps foam particles from blowing out into the surrounding area.
New plastic sheeting keeps foam particles from blowing out into the surrounding area.

They also vacuumed up the foam in the gutter and surrounding jobsite. The contractor lost two days of work putting up the proper containment barriers and cleaning up the area. Putting these barriers in place before cutting the foam would have saved time and money.

This type of foam does not pose a toxic or chemical threat to surface waters, but most would agree it is unsightly and should not be in our waterways. We cited the contractor for a water pollution violation.

Reporting Concerns or Possible Violations

You can report any possible violations in Dane County to us.

Anyone can report a concern or possible violation, as you read about in this case! We have the authority to address threats to surface water quality in Madison and Dane County. We’ll ask for some basic details about what happened, like a description of what you saw and when.

Reporting possible violations is easy, either by online form or by phone.

To report a concern in Dane County, fill out an online report or call (608) 266-4821.

This content is free for use with credit to Public Health Madison & Dane County .

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