Fish advisory over PFAS contamination issued

    Glass of water being filled from a tap
    Photo courtesy the Centers for Disease Control

    Advisories against the consumption of fish from certain water systems in Dane and Rock counties underscore the state’s water quality issues. On June 9, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Department of Health Services (DHS) issued advisories due to high levels of PFAS-contaminated fish.

    According to a DNR press release, the fish were collected from lakes Monona, Kegonsa, and Waubesa. The advisories include the “Yahara Chain waters from Wingra Creek, Starkweather Creek, Lake Monona, Lake Waubesa, Upper and Lower Mud Lakes, Lake Kegonsa, and the Yahara River downstream to where it meets the Rock River,” the release states.

    The advisories recommend that certain species be consumed in very small amounts, or not at all. These include crappie, largemouth bass, northern pike and walleye, which are advised to be consumed no more than one meal per month. bluegill, pumpkinseed and yellow perch are recommended to be consumed no more than one meal per week.

    PFAS (Per- and polyfluroalkyl substance) is part of a man-made family of compounds which have found their way into a wide range of industrial products. From fast food wrappers to firefighting foam, the list of products and companies goes on and on. The compounds are dubbed “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment, including within our bodies.

    In unsafe levels, the compounds can cause a range of health issues in humans and animals, including cancers. Other “forever chemicals” include PFOS (perfluoroctane sulfonate) and PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid). PFOS became the subject of long court battles with DuPont after it was found that the company knew of the health consequences linked to its products yet continued to expose communities and workers. PFOA, called C8 by DuPont, was used in many products including Teflon non-stick pans. The DuPont PFOA issue is the subject of the documentary The Devil We Know.

    Rep. Samba Baldeh (D-Madison) saw the fish advisories as a good reason to pass PFAS-related legislation. Several bills aimed at not only cleaning up PFAS contamination but also involving responsible companies in the process, have been discussed and pushed by the administration of Gov. Tony Evers. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee held a hearing in April on bills to test for and clean up water contamination as well as efforts from the private sector to slow those moves.

    “This advisory should be sent to the Republican leaders of the Assembly and Senate who have killed every initiative to address this problem,” said Baldeh in a statement. “Instead of advice on what and how much fish to eat, the advisory should read: The Time to Pass Gov. Evers PFAS legislation is Now! Safeguard Wisconsin Waters and for Future Generations.”

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    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.