Brief

PFAS shuts down half of Eau Claire water wells

By: - October 13, 2021 5:20 am

“Well” by Mamboman1 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Half of the 16 water wells in Eau Claire have been shut down, after PFAS (per- and polyfluroalkyl substances) were detected in the water systems. The man-made compounds, which have been linked to chronic disease in humans and animals, migrated to the water systems from other contaminated sites.

Although half of Eau Claire’s wells are shut down, the city’s water supply has not been affected, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. “Eau Claire’s utilities manager Lane Berg said, “we’re able to provide the necessary water for the city.” Burg added that, “there’s no bottled water.”

PFAS levels higher than the agreed-upon threshold of 20 parts per trillion were first detected in the city’s wells by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Sampling and testing of both affected and seemingly unaffected water systems began afterward, and occurred every two weeks. Now, Burg noted, the testing has been increased to  every week.

A location to dump contaminated water has been established by the city. “We’re optimistic that we can keep that PFAS from migrating and maybe even draw some of it back and dump it into those lagoons,” said Burg. However, as of right now, the lagoons are not lined to prevent the so-called “forever chemicals” from leaking into the soil.

PFAS are part of a larger group of chemicals which were utilized in industry for decades. They were used in non-stick coating on pans, fast food wrappers, and to make flame-resistant products and firefighting foams. The chemicals do not break down either in the environment or in our own bodies. In humans and other animals, including dogs and cats, PFAS and its relatives can cause a morbid array of diseases from cancers to blood pressure problems  to thyroid disorders and other illnesses. Scientific studies on the compounds continue.

Burg says that the situation in Eau Claire is continuing to be monitored. No responsible party for the contamination has been identified, and the DNR is working on an investigation. Over 50 individual areas in Wisconsin are known to have significant PFAS contamination, with new sites being found every year. Over 5,000 compounds make up the family of forever chemicals, which were championed by industry despite knowledge of their harmful effects, for decades.

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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.

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