Graham Kilmer
MKE County

High PFAS Levels Found at Airport

State DNR orders airport to take immediate action to “halt and minimize” PFAS pollution.

By - Oct 24th, 2019 03:35 pm
Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. Image from the airport.

Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. Image from the airport.

Mitchell International Airport is the latest place in Wisconsin where a number of hazardous PFAS substances were found.

The airport, in order to re-up a permit with the Department of Natural Resources, recently tested surface waters around the property for these substances called Per and Polyfluoroalkyl substances. These are a set of man-made chemicals that have been used in everything from cookware to fire-fighting foam, and they are considered a hazardous substance when they are discharged into the environment. These substances, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services, are linked to increased cholesterol and risk of thyroid disease, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia in women.

Airports are nationally understood to be locations for PFAS, said Christine Haag, remediation and redevelopment program director for the Department of Natural Resources. Still, she said the samples taken around Mitchell Airport were approximately twice as high as those taken around Dane County airport, and significantly higher than samples the DNR has taken during routine water tests.

Samples were taken from outflows near the 128th Air Refueling Wing of the US Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard base showing significant levels of PFAS contamination. These outflows empty into local creeks and tributaries that ultimately connect to Lake Michigan.

In a statement, Harold Mester, director of Public Affairs and Marketing for the airport, said “The source of these chemicals appears to be on land developed by other organizations, including the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Refueling Wing, which has its own fire department and is not located on county-owned property, and the former 440th Airlift Wing property, which was turned over to the Airport more than a decade ago.” Up until 2012, the airport used a fire-fighting foam that contained PFAS chemicals.

The DNR has ordered the airport to take immediate action to “halt and minimize” PFAS contamination. Furthermore, the parties will have to investigate the source of the PFAS and remediate the contamination.

Concern over PFAS as an environmental pollutant has been rising. Haag said the DNR has “ramped up” requests for testing in the past 15 months. In August, Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order to expand monitoring and develop regulatory standards for PFAS chemicals. And a month later he joined 14 other governors backing provisions in the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act that address PFAS chemicals.

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Categories: Environment, MKE County

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