How State Reopening is Affecting PFAS Testing
DNR now navigating various local orders.
The decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to side with Republican state legislators and throw out the Safer at Home order not only created a scramble as local governments make their own rules, it has also affected certain operations in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
As the realities of the pandemic began setting in, the department sought to continue its efforts to identify and clean up land and waterways contaminated by PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Not long before the Supreme Court decision, the DNR began evaluating a request by Johnson Controls to halt well-water sampling until the statewide public health emergency subsided. Throwing out Safer at Home, however, has affected that evaluation process.
PFAS, along with PFOA (Perfluorooctanoate), make up an expansive family of man-made chemicals dating back decades. The compounds repel water and other substances when sprayed as a coating onto a surface, and do not break down in the natural environment. They have been used in a variety of products from non-stick Teflon pans to fast food wrappers, clothing and firefighting foam. Over time the compounds have also been linked to disease in both humans and other animals, from cancers to birth defects.
Sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals,” these man-made products move from one medium to another, and do not break down once they enter the body. Regulating them, and cleaning up contamination sites, became a growing priority of the state Legislature before COVID-19 arrived in the U.S.
Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services has stated that PFAS levels in water exceeding 20 ppt (parts per trillion) are not safe. In an April Zoom call update Christine Haag, DNR remediation and redevelopment program director, described PFAS research as a “still very emerging as a science.”
Numerous contamination sites have been detected throughout Wisconsin. Some are decades-old landfills, others are private wells or lakes and streams which the state has only recently discovered are contaminated.
Most recently in Milwaukee, PFAS was detected in the Estuary Area of Concern. About 13 locations in the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers, a spot in Lake Michigan, and along the inner and outer harbors have been shown to have not just PFAS, but also lesser known PFHxS (Perflurohexanesulfonate) and others still.
Cleaning up these areas is a joint effort between the DNR and the companies which were responsible for the specific site. In Wisconsin, a main subject of PFAS cleanups and well-testing has been Johnson Controls, and it’s subsidiary Tyco Fire Products. Even as recently as mid-April, the company had been ordered by the DNR to provide emergency drinking water to three homeowners in the Marineette and Peshtigo areas. These regions became the faces of Wisconsin’s battle with PFAS contamination. These three wells tested at 1,157 ppt for PFAS. Shortly afterward, the DNR would hold the Zoom call where Haag would announce the request to pause well sampling by Johnson Controls.
“The DNR’s Remediation and Redevelopment program has over 3,000 open cleanup sites across the state,” a DNR spokesperson told Wisconsin Examiner. “Activities at those sites were affected by the safer at home orders because environmental consulting activities were not explicitly identified as essential.”
Johnson Controls issued its request when Safer at Home was in effect. Now, the DNR must juggle the still developing patchwork of local orders, or lack thereof. “With the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, the DNR is evaluating the impact it has on our regulated communities,” a DNR spokesperson said, adding that local and county Safer at Home orders might affect the ability to mobilize environmental consultants to resume sampling and other efforts at sites throughout the state.
How this will affect the ability for water to be tested and emergency supplies to be issued by residents continues to unfold.
Reprinted with permission of Wisconsin Examiner.
More about the PFAS Problem
- How State Reopening is Affecting PFAS Testing - Isiah Holmes - May 23rd, 2020
- Manufacturer Finds No PFAS In Most Wells - Danielle Kaeding - May 20th, 2020
- PFAS, Other Pollutants Found In Rivers - Isiah Holmes - May 11th, 2020
- PFAS Found In Sediment and Surface Water At Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - May 7th, 2020
- Johnson Controls Wants Pause in PFAS Testing - Isiah Holmes - Apr 26th, 2020
- DNR Directs JCI/Tyco To Provide Emergency Drinking Water for Three Homeowners On Private Wells Near JCI/Tyco Biosolid Applied Fields Investigation Area After Sampling Results Show High Levels of PFAS Contamination - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Apr 14th, 2020
- State DNR Forges Ahead on ‘Forever Chemicals’ - Danielle Kaeding - Apr 7th, 2020
- Johnson Controls Must Expand Inspection of PFAS Pollution - Danielle Kaeding - Feb 22nd, 2020
- Assembly attempts to provide political cover while constituents suffer the consequences - Wisconsin Conservation Voters - Feb 21st, 2020
- Campaign Cash: Big Money Groups Oppose PFAS Regulation - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Feb 15th, 2020
- Baldwin Calling on EPA to Deliver on Promises Made in PFAS Action Plan - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Feb 14th, 2020
- Wisconsin PFAS Action Council (WisPAC) Developing PFAS Action Plan For State - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Feb 4th, 2020
- Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Push $10M Clean Water Fund - Danielle Kaeding - Jan 31st, 2020
- DNR Working On New PFAS Rules - Erik Gunn - Jan 24th, 2020
- What Are PFAS Chemicals? - Christy Remucal - Jan 15th, 2020
- DNR Providing Emergency Drinking Water to Homeowner with PFAS Contamination Near JCI Investigation Area - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Jan 10th, 2020
- Senate Debates PFAS in Firefighting Foam - Danielle Kaeding - Jan 9th, 2020
- DNR Confirms PFAS-Containing Foam Found at the Mouth of Starkweather Creek and Lake Monona - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Dec 19th, 2019
- Why PFAS Pollution Is So Scary - Erik Gunn - Nov 18th, 2019
- Op Ed: Everyone Deserves Clean Water - State Sen. Jon Erpenbach - Nov 4th, 2019
- Few Local Water Systems Test for PFAS - Danielle Kaeding - Oct 30th, 2019
- MKE County: High PFAS Levels Found at Airport - Graham Kilmer - Oct 24th, 2019
- State Board Okays Rules on PFAS Pollution - Isiah Holmes - Oct 24th, 2019
- DNR Releases PFAS Contamination Data - Erik Gunn - Oct 8th, 2019
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Presses Trump Administration for Urgency on Addressing PFAS Contamination in Water - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Sep 25th, 2019
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Pressing for Answers on Reports of Efforts to Weaken Contamination Standards for PFAS - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 25th, 2019