Nearly two months after a new law went into effect restricting the use of hazardous firefighting foams, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is still trying to write rules for enforcing it amid disputes over what is considered foam and how to define effective treatment.
Passed late last year on a bipartisan vote, Act 101 restricts the use of foam containing compounds known as PFAS to emergency situations and testing facilities with “appropriate containment, treatment and disposal measures.”
The law doesn’t define those containment, treatment and disposal measures, however. That’s up to the DNR to do through a rulemaking process.
In August the agency laid out a proposed emergency rule that would remain in effect for three years or until a permanent rule is adopted, a process that typically takes about 2½ years.
But the Natural Resources Board tabled that proposal in August after industry groups and some GOP lawmakers objected to the agency’s definition of foam and proposed limits on the amount of PFAS allowed in treated water that’s discharged.
Industry groups argued that the law doesn’t give the DNR the authority to set numeric “effluent limits” that could allow the agency to cite someone for a violation and that the proposed limits — requiring no detectable PFAS — are too stringent.
“The DNR is seeking to impose a wastewater effluent standard for PFOA and PFOS compounds that is lower than Wisconsin’s proposed 20 (parts per trillion) groundwater standard, creating a situation where the wastewater discharge from an on-site treatment facility has to be cleaner than drinking water,” state Sen. Steve Nass and Rep. Joan Ballweg, co-chairs of the Legislature’s Rules Committee, said in a statement.
Industry groups also object to the agency’s attempt to define foam.
The law defines foam as “Class B firefighting foam with intentionally added PFAS,” but foam is typically mixed with water before being sprayed onto fires.
The DNR’s original draft rule expanded the definition to include foam in concentrated or diluted forms, but a new proposed rule instead references “foam-contaminated material.”
After meeting with industry and environmental groups, the new rule also classifies PFAS limits as “action levels” the agency could use to determine if a treatment method is working.
That means if concentrations of any of the proposed compounds are above the limits, the responsible party would have to hold the treated water or modify its treatment system so as to meet the action levels. Failure to do that would result in a violation.
Industry groups, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Wisconsin Paper Council and the Midwest Food Products Association, are still unhappy with the new proposed rule and want all references to the standards removed.
They suggest instead that the rule simply require treatment technology “be operated and maintained per manufacturer specifications.” But the DNR said none of the manufacturing specifications it reviewed contain any guidance on how to achieve a certain level of treatment.
Environmental groups say the action levels are necessary to ensure compliance with the law, which requires disposal or storage measures “to prevent discharges of foam to the environment.”
Ten groups, including Clean Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates, the PFAS Community Campaign, Sierra Club and Wisconsin Conservation Voters, have called on the board to adopt the new rule, which they call “an incredibly modest step towards addressing the burgeoning PFAS pollution problem our state faces.”
The groups argue it’s absurd to ask the DNR to prevent discharge of PFAS but not allow the agency to establish parameters for evaluating treatment measures.
“It’s akin to telling someone they must stop horses from escaping the barn but objecting when they repair the broken barn door, because you didn’t say the word ‘door’ when you asked them to solve the problem,” the groups wrote.
Doug Oitzinger, a Marinette alderman and former mayor, said the law is unambiguous and was written intentionally to prevent foam from being flushed down the sewer, as it was for years in Marinette, where dozens of wells have been contaminated and hundreds more are being tested.
“There is no ambiguity in the words ‘may not include flushing, draining or otherwise releasing the foam into a storm or sanitary sewer.’ Those words mean zero PFAS foam,” Oitzinger wrote. “Treating the foam to any level above ‘zero’ and discharging it into the sanitary or storm sewers is a violation of the law. Arguing that some level above non-detect would satisfy Act 101 is simply turning the English language on its head.”
The Natural Resources Board is scheduled to discuss the modified rule at its monthly meeting Wednesday.
In notes included with the board’s agenda, Chairman Frederick Prehn noted the law does not “specify or require treatment of PFAS foam to ‘undetectable levels,’” nor does it establish numeric limits for any PFAS compounds.
Prehn suggested eliminating any references to numeric standards or attempts to define foam and requiring less-stringent treatment methods.
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, and have been shown to increase the risk of cancer and other ailments.
They have been found in drinking water, groundwater, surface water, soil, sediments, air, fish and wildlife and are present in all of Madison’s municipal wells.
The DNR is monitoring more than 40 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.
Your letters to the editor: Thoughts and prayers for new gun laws
Thoughts and prayers for new gun laws — Michael Lindsay
After another tragic Wisconsin shooting, it’s time for me to send my thoughts and prayers to majority legislators.
My thoughts are that it’s time you serve your Wisconsin constituents rather than your American Legislative Exchange Council, National Rifle Association and gun manufacturer constituents. Majority legislators should be enacting laws that make our communities safer by imposing licensure for gun ownership in ways that are similar to vehicle ownership regulations and, at the very least, by restricting possession of assault weapons to authorized personnel.
My prayers are that if you regard yourself as a Christian, a Judeo-Christian, or another faith-based human being, you will behave according to the tenets which respect lives, including respect for lives over weapons.
I am not a member of a “well-regulated militia” and I do not own a musket. But I do support the U.S. Constitution, including its Second Amendment. But I do not emotionally or irrationally over-interpret that amendment to mean unrestricted ownership of guns. That's because I realize “the right of the people [a collective term] to keep and bear arms” is not violated even when some individuals are prohibited from keeping and bearing arms.
Michael Lindsay, Eau Claire
PFAS are biggest problem with F-35s — Allen Ruff
Noise is not the core issue for those opposing the F-35 fighter jets.
The poisoning of the area's watershed directly attributable to PFAS chemical runoff from Truax Field is the fundamental issue facing everyone across the region. It even affects those currently in denial who busily hype the economic promise that will seemingly come about with the arrival of F-35s at the air base.
Proposed construction meant to provide additional facilities for this next generation warplane will certainly plow up ground already filled with additional toxins as the Air Force sloughs off its responsibility to clean up the toxic mess it has already made.
And who will end up paying for it all? In actuality, everyone who depends on safe, clean water -- even those who imagine some illusory "security" or economic gain.
Allen Ruff, Madison
School Board needs more common sense — Jerry Darda
Madison School Board members Ananda Mirill, Ali Muldrow and Nicki VanderMeulen recently tried to redirect $35,0000 budgeted for police security at crowded school events to community groups to provide the same service.
Mike Hernandez, chief of Madison's high schools and former principal at East High School, pointed out that getting non-police personnel to supervise these events was impractical. He said "It’s easy to sit in an ivory tower to say (find an alternative). It’s very hard when actually living it.”
Fortunately, four other board members were reasonable and voted to use the funds for Madison police. Mirilli, Muldrow and VanderMeulen's actions were an effort to support Freedom Inc., an undisciplined activist group whose only publicized accomplishment has been disrupting School Board meetings. One of its goals is to eliminate any police presence in the public schools.
It disturbs me that too many School Board members do not have any idea what's going on in the schools and don't take the time to find out. Yet they are in a position to make policy and decisions that threaten the safety of the students and defy common sense.
Jerry Darda, Madison
Funds diverted for wall hurt military — Peter D. Fox
The bipartisan defense-funding bill signed last December by President Donald Trump made a huge “about-face” just two months later on Feb. 13 when even more military funding -- this time $3.8 billion -- was shifted to the border wall.
Total military funding redirected toward President Trump’s wall now stands at around $10 billion.
Promises made, promises kept? Was it only a hollow promise that Mexico would pay the tab? Or was it an outright lie, knowing the avowed outcome wasn’t remotely possible?
For anyone who has been to a Wisconsin Guard armory or Reserve Center to see off troops headed to the Mideast or Afghanistan, think about what this takeaway means to your loved ones going into harm’s way. Remember when unarmored, outdated Humvees were death traps for soldiers in Iraq? This money grab takes away $100 million intended to further modernize them.
An additional $1.3 billion went from the Guard and Reserve for modernization or replacement of other dated equipment. The balance of the $3.8 billion reduction affects priority aircraft and seafaring capabilities for the Air Force and Navy.
Think about that next time you tell someone in uniform, “Thank you for your service.”
Peter D. Fox, Milton
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