Two dozen private wells contaminated with PFAS found in northern town of Stella

By: - January 19, 2023 12:09 pm

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

Testing has revealed that 24 private wells in the Town of Stella outside of Rhinelander are contaminated with levels of PFAS higher than the Wisconsin Department of Health Service’s standards. 

The contamination was found when the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was randomly sampling 450 wells across the state for PFAS and found one well in the Stella area that contained high levels of the compound. The DNR offered free sampling to 50 private well owners in the area and 35 wells were tested. While five wells had no PFAS detected and six had levels of PFAS below the state standard, 24 were at unsafe levels. 

PFAS are a family of man-made chemical compounds that can cause cancer and other negative health effects. Known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment or the body, PFAS have been used in household goods such as nonstick cookware, fast food wrappers and certain types of firefighting foam. 

At a media briefing Thursday, DNR representatives said the investigation into the PFAS contamination was in its early stages and the source had not yet been discovered. 

“We have not identified a source of this contamination but continue to review available information to help us understand potential sources,” Jim Zeller, the DNR environmental management division administrator, said. “Some of the potential sources for PFAS may include fire training and fire response sites; airports; military installations; industrial sites such as coated paper mills and metal finishers; biosolids from municipal wastewater treatment facilities and accidental releases such as spills.”

The agency is also assessing expanding its sampling area and testing more wells in the region. For residents of the town, the DNR is providing at least a six month supply of bottled water.


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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.