Three homeowners receive emergency drinking water due to PFAS

    DNR PFAS Graphic
    This graphic, supplied by the Wisconsin DNR, shows identified locations of PFAS concentrations around the state as of November 2015. (Image courtesy of Wisconsin DNR)

    Johnson Controls Inc. and its subsidiary, Tyco Fire Products, has been ordered by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to provide emergency drinking water to three homeowners in the Marinette and Peshtigo areas. The homeowners’ private drinking wells were found to have high levels of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), so-called “forever chemicals” used in a variety of man-made products from non-stick pans to anti-grease fast food wrappers.

    The companies have completed sampling of 98 of 174 private wells, which were located near where “biosolids” had been spread in the past. According to a DNR press release, three wells had high levels of the compounds. One well measured in at 1,157 ppt (parts per tillion) for PFAS concentrations, exceeding the DHS recommendation of nothing above 20 ppt. The other two ranged anywhere from 20 to 70 parts per tillion.

    Another Marinette homeowner was issued emergency drinking water in January. The area is a focal point for detected PFAS contamination in the state. The same month, PFAS-containing foam was confirmed in a Madison-area creek.

    Johnson Controls Inc. and Tyco are responsible for sampling water supplies in areas contaminated by the company’s operations. In February, it was announced that the Wisconsin PFAS Action Council (WisPAC) was developing an action plan to identify priority responses to contamination across the state.

    These measures have taken a back seat in the state’s attempts to hold everything together through the COVID-19 pandemic. Addressing PFAS was a key point of the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality, as well as the Evers Administration as a whole.

    One of the first things the council recommended to help develop its action plan was holding hearing and listening sessions for members of the public. In the past, such hearings have seen residents share how PFAS contamination has affected their health, family, property, pets, among other things.

    The DNR will be hosting a listening session in Marinette at noon, and 6pm April 15. Held online, the meeting will discuss the recent well samples, particularly from the biosolid landscapes around Marinette, Peshtigo, and other surrounding communities. This marks the seventh of eleven planned listening sessions held by the department.

    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, and other outlets.