Decision on PFAS regulation expected Monday

By: - June 3, 2022 5:56 am
PFAS sample testing bottles | Photo by Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

PFAS sample testing bottles | Photo by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

In a hearing on Monday, a Waukesha County judge is expected to issue a decision on whether or not he’ll stay his April ruling ending the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) ability to regulate chemical spills. 

In April, Judge Michael Bohren sided with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business lobby, ruling that the DNR does not have the authority to enforce one of its key environmental protection tools, known as the “spills law,” in relation to toxic chemicals known as PFAS. 

WMC and an Oconomowoc dry cleaner brought the lawsuit, arguing the law placed undue cost and regulation on businesses. Environmental advocates have argued the decision will prevent the state from protecting people against the harmful effects of PFAS, which include cancer.

PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t eventually break down. They are commonly found in household goods such as non-stick pans and in some firefighting materials. Communities across Wisconsin have PFAS in their local water supplies. Residents of French Island, near La Crosse, have had to use only bottled water because of PFAS contamination from a nearby airport that used the firefighting foam. 

Bohren ruled that the DNR has not specifically listed PFAS as hazardous materials so the agency can’t regulate the chemicals under the spills law — which requires polluters to clean up hazardous material spills they cause. In order to regulate PFAS, the DNR would have to promulgate an administrative rule designating them as harmful and get that rule approved by the Republican-held Legislature. 

After Bohren’s April ruling, the DNR filed a motion to stay the decision pending an appeal. A group of environmental groups and public health advocates have filed briefs on the motion arguing that the gutting of the state’s protections against PFAS will be harmful so the decision shouldn’t take effect until the case has concluded. 

“There is no good reason to exacerbate the physical, mental, and economic harm suffered by those living in and around PFAS contamination sites in Wisconsin,” said Midwest Environmental Advocates Staff Attorney Rob Lee said. “The stay on the Circuit Court’s decision should remain in place until this case reaches its conclusion.”

The Monday hearing is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m.


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.