“Well” by Mamboman1 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Environmental groups are sounding the alarm after drinking water wells in the communities of Marshfield and Adams were shut down last week due to tests by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that found levels of PFAS (per- and polyfluroralkyl substances) high enough to be harmful for humans.
Bill Davis, senior staff attorney for the Wisconsin River Alliance, warned that with the continued risk from PFAS, ongoing battles in the Legislature and the courts over regulating the chemicals pose a continuing threat to communities. In April, a Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge ruled that the DNR cannot regulate PFAS and other emerging toxic substances under Wisconsin’s Spills Law following a lawsuit brought by the state’s largest business lobby.
“Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce’s lawsuit is deeply misguided,” said Davis. “Wisconsin’s Spills Law is the only authority our state has to protect public health by holding polluters accountable for contamination. We all learn when we are young that if you make a mess you have to clean it up. Instead, WMC wants to put that burden on the taxpayers and those who suffer from contamination.”
PFAS and related man-made compounds were used throughout private industry for decades. Prized as the secret ingredient in non-stick pans, wrappers, flame retardant clothing, firefighting foam and many other products, the compounds found their way all over the world. They also are bio-resistant, meaning they don’t break down in the environment, nor in our own bodies.
PFAS can contaminate water, soil, and other mediums, and have been linked to chronic ailments including cancers, birth defects, thyroid disorders, and other diseases. Many contamination sites can be linked to historical use by various companies, who then are held responsible for testing contaminated water supplies and cleaning up their properties.
In addition to the WMC lawsuit challenging the DNR’s authority to regulate and enforce PFAS clean ups, earlier this year, the Natural Resources Board rejected scientific advice on setting PFAS limits. Disregarding or contesting the input of Department of Health Services experts, members of the board voted to raise the drinking water limit for PFAS to 70 parts per million. Those are levels more than three times higher than the recommendation by public officials.
“We need to take a precautionary approach to how we manufacture and use chemicals, which we haven’t done with PFAS,” said Davis. “It’s currently legal to invent a new substance and use it without determining whether it will cause human health or environmental problems. We will continue to ‘discover’ more and more problematic substances like PFAS — just as we have done with PCBs, DDT and lead — until those who create a new chemical must prove it’s safe before it’s used.”
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