Foam products used by firefighters contain PFAS. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
The inter-agency council of Wisconsin state government working to respond to the prevalence of cancer-causing chemicals in the state’s water released its 2022 progress report on Thursday, which shows some progress has been made but the state is still working to improve its ability to track and find sources of contamination.
The family of 5,000 chemical compounds, known as PFAS, comes from a variety of household and industrial products, including non-stick pans and foam used to fight fires at airports. Known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS don’t easily break down in nature or the human body and have been found at 30 sites across Wisconsin since 2013.
The 2022 Action Plan Progress Report shows what the state has accomplished in instituting recommendations made by the Wisconsin PFAS Action Council in December of 2020. The 2020 report included 25 recommendations covering eight topics — standards, sampling, pollution prevention, education and communication, research and knowledge, phase-out, future investments and historic discharges.
Even as state agencies have worked to institute the recommendations, additional setbacks have come up since the initial report. Earlier this year, a Waukesha County judge ruled that the Department of Natural Resources is unable to regulate PFAS under the state’s decades-old spills law, which allows the DNR to force companies to pay for pollution caused by their operation.
The state’s Natural Resources Board, which sets policy for the DNR and is run by Republican appointees who have clung to a majority with one member overstaying his term, was unable to reach a consensus on the allowable limit for certain PFAS compounds in groundwater earlier this year. Setting science-based environmental standards is the first of the council’s recommendations.
Despite the setbacks, Gov. Tony Evers celebrated the work his administration has done to institute the recommendations of the council — which he created in 2019.
“I am proud of the coordinated work across our state agencies and with local communities and stakeholders through the PFAS Action Council as we continue to lead with science to understand where and how PFAS is impacting families and communities across our state,” Evers said in a statement. “Ensuring folks have clean, safe water to drink is as much of a public health issue as it is an environmental issue and an economic issue. From a volunteer fire department working to remove PFAS foam from its storage to a local water utility applying for a grant to upgrade its system to ensure local residents have safe water flowing from their tap, we’re making investments and taking critical steps to take action on PFAS across Wisconsin.”
This year, according to a news release, the DNR and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) will use $1 million in funding to start collecting firefighting foam that contains PFAS. That effort is expected to remove more than 25,000 gallons of the foam from more than 60 counties.
The release also touted efforts to test municipal water supplies for PFAS, which have so far sampled more than 125 water systems, 100 wastewater treatment plants and hundreds of private wells.
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