PFAS advisory group highlights federal moves on clean up

By: - October 18, 2021 10:07 am
Marines fighting fires with foam

Marines fighting fires with foam, a product that uses PFAS (Photo: Lance Cpl. Shawn Valosin/U.S. Marine Corps)

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) PFAS External Advisory Group had a meeting Friday to go over the state’s efforts to combat PFAS  contamination state-wide. The advisory group reviewed  federal updates involving American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, and the state’s own program to replace PFAS-containing firefighting foams.

PFAS are part of a man-made group of chemicals used in industry for decades. The compounds were found in non-stick coatings, fast food wrappers, firefighting foam, and numerous other products. They do not break down in nature nor in our bodies, and have been linked to several chronic health conditions including cancers. PFAS contamination sites are found around the state, from Milwaukee to Madison to Marinette. Recently, half of the wells in the city of Eau Claire were shut down due to high PFAS levels.

Updates on federal movement on PFAS contamination were facilitated by Mimi Johnson of the DNR. Among the federal updates is the projection  for significant  funds coming to the state through the federal infrastructure bill. Due to bipartisan support for PFAS-related initiatives, the group feels that it’s unlikely that those initiatives will be stripped out of infrastructure legislation. Additional support may come through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The 2022 version of the NDAA includes $550 million in funding dedicated to PFAS clean-up on Department of Defense (DOD) installations. Some $40 million will also be used for PFAS research at the DOD, and a continued moratorium on the burning of PFAS-containing materials.

The advisory board is also continuing to follow new guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which focuses on groundwater, wastewater, sediment and fish tissue. The new draft method to determine PFAS in various mediums would include 40 PFAS compounds. However, the DNR does not recommend using the draft method, which it continues to review. The advisory board also noted that the Federal Aviation Administration missed its deadline to no longer require the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam. However, the administration did request that airports limit the use of such firefighting foam.

Discussion during the advisory group meeting also touched on how to replace PFAS-containing firefighting foam, particularly given budgetary limitations of volunteer fire departments. Group members suggested that prioritizing fire departments based on budgetary needs may need to be considered in the future.


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Isiah Holmes
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, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.