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Gov. Tony Evers creates council targeting PFAS contamination

Gov. Tony Evers creates council targeting PFAS contamination

Gov. Tony Evers has formed a new council aimed at identifying potential sources of PFAS contamination and addressing the chemicals across the state. 

The panel, called the PFAS Coordinating Council, was created this week in an executive order that targets the perfluorinated compounds, which are found in firefighting foams and household products. It's similar to an existing advisory group

"I've been working alongside governors and stakeholders from across the Great Lakes region to address this issue, but we have to start taking this issue more seriously here at home," Evers said in a statement. "I'm proud that my administration is ready to get to work to address PFAS contamination."

Groundwater and drinking water tests in Madison and Marinette have shown the presence of the chemicals. The compounds have also been detected in Milwaukee

GOP State Rep. John Nygren, the co-chair of the Legislature's powerful budget committee whose district includes Marinette, said in a statement he's happy "Evers is now taking this issue seriously."

"It is vital that any work stemming from this Executive Order is carried out in a measured, deliberate, and transparent fashion by bringing a wide variety of stakeholders to the table and using reliable science," he said. 

In addition to the new body, which would be staffed by the Department of Natural Resources, the executive order also directs the agency and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to work with local officials to identify potential sources of PFAS, form a new website to educate the public about the topic and develop regulatory standards, among other things. 

On the establishment of PFAS benchmarks, the Department of Health Services earlier this summer already proposed new enforcement standards for the chemicals. Officials at the time called for a combined standard of 20-parts-per-trillion between the two PFAS compounds, below the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level of 70 parts-per-trillion for two compounds, known as PFOA and PFOS. 

As for the new PFAS council, the body would create standard tests and treatment protocols, help local officials look for funding avenues to address the chemicals, create protocols to "inform, educate and engage the public" on the compounds and more. 

A DNR spokeswoman said DNR, DATCP and DHS will work to form the council in the next few months. Other agencies, she said, "may be involved as needed" and the staffing levels will vary depending on the given topic. 

The DNR already has a PFAS Technical Advisory Group, formed this year, that has similar objectives

Perfluorinated compounds are used to manufacture firefighting foams, nonstick cookware, stain-resistant clothing and food packaging. They are typically found in groundwater near airports or landfills.

The effort comes as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' Water Quality Task Force is continuing to hold meetings across the state to hear from constituents and weigh legislative recommendations. Evers has also declared 2019 the “Year of Clean Drinking Water."

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Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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