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Wisconsin Natural Resources Board green-lights rules on fluorinated firefighting foam
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Wisconsin Natural Resources Board green-lights rules on fluorinated firefighting foam

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Wisconsin’s natural resources policy board has given the agency approval to begin drafting rules to restrict the use of firefighting foam containing hazardous chemicals known as PFAS.

The Natural Resources Board voted unanimously Wednesday to approve parameters for an emergency rule that will determine, among other things, how and where fluorinated foam can be tested and disposed of.

The state Department of Natural Resources is required to craft the rules under 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.”

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.

The DNR estimates compliance with the new rule could cost up to $5 million a year.

The state Fire Chiefs Association has said it supports the new law but is concerned about the cost of disposal, which it said can rise to $50 per gallon.

The DNR is surveying fire departments to determine how much foam they have on hand. A 2018 survey of Michigan fire departments found they had more than 36,000 gallons, though the agency said Wisconsin likely has less.

The Madison Fire Department last year became the first in Wisconsin to stop using fluorinated foam. The department paid North Shore Environmental Construction $8,850 to collect and dispose of 610 gallons of concentrated foam in an Oregon landfill.

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

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