PFAS bill, set to be amended, gets Assembly hearing

By: - June 15, 2023 4:48 pm

A PFAS advisory sign along Starkweather Creek. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

As legislative drafting continues on a bill that would create a number of grant programs to address PFAS pollution across Wisconsin, the Assembly Committee on Environment held a public hearing on the legislation Thursday. 

Numerous advocacy groups representing environmental and business interests have called for the first version of the bill to be amended as they’ve refrained from stating a final position. Environmental groups have opposed additional limits the bill would place on the ability of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to test for and clean up PFAS contamination, while business groups have sought to protect property owners from intrusion from the agency. 

“I just think that DNR needs more tools, not fewer,” Rob Lee, a staff attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates, said. 

PFAS are a family of compounds known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the body or the environment. PFAS pollution has been connected to certain kinds of cancer, birth defects and other health problems. The compounds have been used for decades in firefighting foams, fast food wrappers and household goods such as nonstick pans. 

Communities across the state have found PFAS in their water supplies. 

The bill, and a related $125 million appropriation in the state budget from the Joint Finance Committee, are aimed at additional testing and cleanup  of PFAS pollution. The programs would help communities and landowners pay for testing, additional water treatment methods and drilling new wells so that people can have access to clean water. 

Sen. Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay) said Thursday that the state has an “obligation” to assist people with all the ways the chemicals can affect their health and livelihoods. 

“So we’ve got to come up with a plan to help people out, not just on the health side, but then to figure out ways to use their property,” he said. “Imagine having a farm that not only can’t water their cattle because if they pump it up out of their well and some gets on the ground, well now they’ve spilled a hazardous substance. If it is going to their cattle, what’s in the milk? That sort of destroys the use of that property in any capacity. So there are things you can do to help these people, and I think we have an obligation to do it.” 

At the hearing, one of the bill’s co-authors, Rep. Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz), said an amendment is still being put together to address the variety of complaints people have made about the bill. 

“I think it is incredibly important to point out that there isn’t one organization registered in opposition to this bill,” Mursau said. “All the leading environmental groups and business stakeholders are currently registered as neutral, which I think is the indication that this bill upfront is a strong starting point.”

Mursau said that since the Senate public hearing, his office and Wimberger’s have met with agencies and groups that aired concerns about the bill and suggested changes. 

“I am encouraged by the conversations I’ve had with the contacts I’ve received on the bill and I believe we can find a common ground to move this bill forward to protect our citizens and our natural resources from the poisonous chemicals,” he said.


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.