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Natural Resources Board delays PFAS rule in response to industry objections
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Natural Resources Board delays PFAS rule in response to industry objections

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In response to industry pushback, Wisconsin’s natural resources policy board has delayed temporary regulations on the use and storage of firefighting foam containing hazardous fluorinated compounds known as PFAS.

The Natural Resources Board voted unanimously Wednesday to table a rule to set guidelines on containment and disposal of the chemicals, which have been linked to cancer and other illnesses.

Board members cited concerns from industry groups and Republican lawmakers objecting to the Department of Natural Resources’ proposed standards for the amount of PFAS allowed in wastewater.

The rule was drafted in response to bipartisan legislation passed last year restricting the use of fluorinated foam to emergency situations and testing facilities that the DNR determines to have “appropriate containment, treatment and disposal measures.”

With the rule tabled until the board’s Sept. 22 meeting, the law, known as Act 101, will take effect Sept. 1 without definitions of those containment and disposal measures.

The law requires the DNR to adopt emergency rules by Sept. 7 that will remain in effect for three years or until the DNR can adopt permanent rules, a process that typically takes about 2.5 years.

Board members referenced an Aug. 7 letter from Wisconsin Manufactures and Commerce, Wisconsin Paper Council and Wisconsin Water Alliance and other groups claiming the DNR does not have the authority to limit the amount of PFAS in wastewater.

“We are deeply troubled that the proposed effluent limits for fourteen different PFAS compounds are not based on science, have not been reviewed by the Department of Health Services (DHS), have not been discussed with the general public, and would place Wisconsin in the position of being a regulatory outlier,” the groups wrote.

State Sen. Steve Nass and Rep. Joan Ballweg, co-chairs of the Legislature’s rules committee, echoed those industry concerns and said the DNR’s proposed rule would overstep its authority.

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Madison water utility finds PFAS in every well; levels below proposed state heath guidelines

The DNR estimated it would cost local governments and businesses about $2.3 million a year to comply with the new regulations.

DNR Secretary Preston Cole told the board the agency would listen.

“We stand ready to meet with any and all individuals who … have a question or concern as it relates to their industry or their welfare,” Cole said. “We will begin having those conversations in short order after the board meeting.”

Laura Olah, executive director for Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger and coordinator of the PFAS Community Campaign, noted that Act 101 specifically prohibits disposal of fluorinated foam in storm or sanitary sewers.

Olah said tabling the rule was a good idea as long as the DNR ultimately prohibits the discharge of PFAS foam in accordance with the law.

PFAS are a group of largely unregulated synthetic compounds found in firefighting foam as well as food packaging, non-stick cookware, water-resistant clothing, carpeting and other products.

The compounds, which do not break down naturally, have been found in drinking water, groundwater, surface water, soil, sediments, air, fish and wildlife as well as human blood samples.

The DNR is monitoring about 30 PFAS contamination sites around the state, most of which the agency says can be traced to firefighting foam.

Several contaminated sites at the Dane County Regional Airport have been linked to training areas used for decades by the Wisconsin Air National Guard and local fire departments. PFAS have been detected in every one of Madison’s 23 public drinking water wells.

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