PFAS action plan is first step

    DNR PFAS Graphic
    This graphic, supplied by the Wisconsin DNR, shows identified locations of PFAS concentrations around the state as of November 2015. (Image courtesy of Wisconsin DNR)

    The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released a statewide PFAS Action Plan on Wednesday, making Wisconsin one of only a handful of states to come up with such a plan. Nearly 20 state agencies and the University of Wisconsin System contributed to the action plan, as did months of public listening sessions on the issue across the state both in person and online.

    PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are part of a large group of man-made compounds which have been utilized in a variety of products, from Teflon to fast food wrappers. The water-resistant compounds were popular in industry for decades. But they don’t break down in the environment, or in our bodies, and have been linked to numerous diseases and negative health effects.

    Water contaminated by PFAS can be found across the state, but particularly in regions like Marinette. As part of an ongoing effort to tackle water quality issues, Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order in August 2019 to focus on PFAS contamination.

    “The DNR is proud to lead the effort toward addressing environmental contamination by PFAS in Wisconsin,” said DNR Secretary Preston Cole. “We look forward to continuing to work with other state agencies, the university system and Wisconsin communities to put forth and implement solutions that will protect the public and support our businesses.”

    Darsi Foss, chair of the Wisconsin PFAS Action Committee and a DNR environmental management division administrator, said enacting the plan will need to be a collaborative effort with the private sector. “Any time we have legislation or budget matters that certain stakeholders don’t support, that makes it harder to get those things through the Legislature,” she told Wisconsin Examiner. “So it’s just a matter of if we can come to a middle ground on some of these things, get some of these funds out there for the fire departments to remove some of this foam, grant programs, get some of these standards in place. But it will require us all, in kind of a bipartisan way, to get some of this stuff done.”

    The plan calls for the establishment of science-based PFAS standards for things like soil, groundwater, and biosolids, as well as development of a PFAS risk communication infrastructure and streamlining the process of delivering drinking water to affected communities. Particular sections of the plan are also carved out to support the families of veterans who live near military contamination sites or have a high risk of exposure.

    “There’s things the agencies themselves can do,” said Foss. “If we have discretionary resources and we have a research priority, we can figure out how to work with the university on some of that and getting the science going — or working with the Environmental Protection Agency on certain things. But some of these big ticket items will depend on bipartisan support.”

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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.