Narrower of two PFAS bills advances

By: - December 12, 2019 8:08 am

Military firefighters train using foam liquid fire extinguisher solution. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Benjamin Donahue, distributed through Wikimedia Commons)

One of two bills in the Legislature aimed at the growing concern about PFAS chemicals cleared an Assembly committee Wednesday, but the author of a second says his own measure is essential to providing a more comprehensive solution.

John Nygren

AB-323, authored by State Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), bars the use of firefighting foam containing perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) except in emergency operations or for testing where there are appropriate containment, treatment, and disposal measures.

“PFAS contamination of groundwater is a serious issue in northeastern Wisconsin and a growing problem in other areas of the state,” Nygren said in a statement. “A large portion of this contamination traces back to the use of firefighting foam and therefore this bill is a strong step toward preventing future issues.”

Nygren’s hometown of Marinette and nearby Peshtigo is the scene of a major PFAS contamination site blamed on the former Tyco Industries plant, now owned by Johnson Controls Inc., for decades a manufacturing and testing site for firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals.

There are anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 different compounds containing PFAS, many dating back decades and used in a wide range of household products. In recent years, concern has grown about possible health hazards, including to the reproductive and immune systems as well as liver and kidney damage, tumors, cancer, thyroid problems and developmental disorders.

There are as yet no federal standards for the chemicals, however, because they’ve been in use for decades starting before the emergence of chemical-hazard regulations.

While Nygren’s bill is likely to head to the Assembly floor in the New Year, a much stronger measure, Senate bill 302 and its Assembly companion bill, have been referred to committees and are awaiting hearings.

Sen Dave Hansen
Dave Hansen

Lead authors Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Sen. Mark Miller (D-Madison)  go much farther than AB 323’s focus on partially banning one source of PFAS contamination.

SB-302, which backers have dubbed “The CLEAR Act,” would authorize the state Department of Natural Resources to determine whether PFAS substances may harm health or the environment and to set and enforce standards for PFAS chemicals in drinking water, groundwater, surface water, air, solid waste, the beds of navigable waters, and soil and sediments.

Hansen told the Wisconsin Examiner on Wednesday that he welcomes passage of Nygren’s bill, but that it doesn’t go far enough without the more comprehensive regulation envisioned in the CLEAR Act.

“It’s important that we pass them both, or a compromise of them both,” Hansen said.

Hansen credited Nygren for meeting with him to work out differences over the CLEAR Act so that it can garner Nygren’s support and that of other GOP lawmakers. “We’re hoping that John is sincere,” he said.

But, he added, “we need to have a hearing on the CLEAR Act before the fire foam act moves any further.”

In addition, Hansen said, if the Nygren bill alone advances to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk without the CLEAR Act moving forward in some form, “I’m going to ask Gov. Evers to veto it.”


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.