New bill would contract for PFAS clean-up

    Foam products used by firefighters contain PFAS. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

    Wisconsin legislators are putting forward a new bill to facilitate the clean-up of firefighting foams that contain PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). The bill would require the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to collect, store and dispose of unused firefighting foams, which contain the so-called forever compounds.

    PFAS are part of a large group of human-made chemicals that have been used throughout various industries for decades. In addition to firefighting foams, the water-resistant compounds are found in non-stick products, including cookware, fast food wrappers and coatings for military vehicles.

    In high concentrations, PFAS can cause a variety of diseases and disorders in humans and animals. Often they’re ingested through contaminated water sources. Because PFAS and similar compounds don’t break down, they can linger in the environment and in the body forever.

    The bill, co-sponsored by 17 state representatives and five senators, would allow the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to contract with a third party to collect, store and dispose of PFAS-containing firefighting foam. It also requires DATCP and any contracted third party to prioritize collecting from the state’s cities, villages, towns and counties.

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    Currently, residents whose private water supplies have been identified as contaminated by PFAS are provided emergency drinking water by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Although high concentrations of contamination have been detected in the areas around Marinette, sites have also been identified in the Madison and Milwaukee areas.

    Sometimes the chemicals are detected in white foamy build-up along waterways. Other times, the contamination is linked to a legacy of activity by particular private companies. Johnson & Johnson has included the compounds in firefighting products. The company is working with the state to identify and clean up PFAS contamination linked back to its activities. This most recent bill represents another layer to the state’s still-developing plan to tackle PFAS contamination sites across Wisconsin.

     

    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.