Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Press Release

DNR Confirms PFAS-Containing Foam Found at the Mouth of Starkweather Creek and Lake Monona


By - Dec 19th, 2019 11:28 am
Foam present in Starkweather Creek in October shows elevated levels of PFOS and PFOA. Photo courtesy of the DNR.

Foam present in Starkweather Creek in October shows elevated levels of PFOS and PFOA. Photo courtesy of the DNR.

MADISON, Wis. – The Department of Natural Resources confirms the presence of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) foam in Starkweather Creek near Olbrich Boat Launch. The DNR spotted the foam along the creek in late October.

The DNR dispatched contractors to collect and remove the foam and have it analyzed for PFAS. Results showed that elevated levels of PFOS and PFOA were present in the foam (see table below). Results are also available on the DNR’s PFAS webpage.

Date Collected


Substance Sampled

Sample Depth

PFOA (ppt)

PFOS (ppt)


Olbrich Boat Launch



9.5 – 10



Olbrich Boat Launch



460 – 610

80,000 – 92,000*

*Values are approximations. For additional information, please see the lab report (PDF). PPT is parts per trillion.

Other PFAS contaminants were also detected in the foam and water samples. Those results can also be found on the PFAS web page.

Given the concentrations of PFAS present in the foam, as well as other contaminants such as bacteria, the DNR and Department of Health Services (DHS) recommend that people avoid making contact with any foam observed on waterways. According to health officials, swallowing foam with PFAS could be a risk to your health, and it’s always best to rinse off after contact with foam. DHS also recommends that people not allow their pets to come into contact with or swallow foam, and that pets also rinse off with fresh water.

This is the first time foam on Starkweather Creek or Lake Monona has been tested for PFAS compounds. On a case-by-case basis, DNR is responding to foam events in areas where there is known or suspected PFAS contamination and is also working closely with state and local health officials to ensure that the public stays informed of these situations when they develop. Public health information concerning PFAS foam and contaminated surface water is available on the department’s web site.

Foam observed on state waterways and lakes may or may not contain PFAS. Foam frequently collects on the surface of rivers and lakes due to the buildup of organic compounds from decaying plant or algal material, where wind and wave action pushes them to the shore. It can have bright, white coloring and look like shaving cream, but is lightweight and can blow inland and collect on lake shores and river banks.

PFAS are a group of human-made chemicals used for decades in numerous products, including non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and certain types of firefighting foam. These legacy contaminants have made their way into the environment through spills of PFAS-containing materials, discharges of PFAS-containing wastewater to treatment plants and certain types of firefighting foams.

PFAS can persist in the environment and the human body for long periods of time. Recent scientific findings indicate that exposure to certain PFAS may have harmful health effects in people. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to some PFAS substances above certain levels may increase the risk of adverse health effects, such as thyroid disease, low birthweights and cancer.

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