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Dane County requires more public reporting on PFAS contamination
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DANE COUNTY | ‘FOREVER CHEMICALS’

Dane County requires more public reporting on PFAS contamination

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Starkweather/Truax

An airplane takes off near the site where Starkweather Creek exits Truax Field Air National Guard Base and flows through pipes that feed the water downstream toward Lake Monona in Madison. In 2019, the creek contained higher levels of PFOA and PFOS — two more scrutinized types of hazardous PFAS — than any other waters the Department of Natural Resources tested that year.

The Dane County Board on Thursday approved a proposal that will require additional public reporting on PFAS contamination and seek more information on how much power the county has to regulate or halt airport projects if soil is too contaminated.

In another proposal aimed at supporting efforts to address PFAS contamination, the board backed a state bill that, if passed, would fund new state staff to come up with a PFAS action plan, create grants for local governments to conduct testing and remediation, and other statewide initiatives to mitigate contamination due to the chemicals.

PFAS compounds are toxic, manmade chemicals that don’t break down in the environment and have been shown to increase the risk of cancer and other ailments. The “forever chemicals” have been found at the Dane County Regional Airport, where firefighters have used fluorinated foams for decades. Environmental advocates worry construction could further disburse PFAS.

Sup. Yogesh Chawla, 6th District, the author of the proposal on public reporting, said the county needs to make it “as easy as possible” for members of the community to find out about contamination levels and any remediation efforts. With the resolution’s approval, Public Health Madison and Dane County, along with county staff, will be directed to create a website for posting information on PFAS tests and minutes from any public meetings where PFAS is discussed.

The resolution also asks county staff to provide a legal opinion on “any and all ways” the county can regulate airport activities and the work to clean up PFAS. Chawla said it’s not clear exactly what the county can do to protect from PFAS contamination, and the legal opinion should shed some light on that.

“We ... need to know what power the County Board has to keep our drinking water safe for our community,” Chawla said.

The resolution is the latest iteration of a series of proposals from Chawla looking to address PFAS contamination. The previous proposals failed, likely because they included language opposing the placement of F-35 fighter jets in Madison, which has faced opposition because of noise and environmental concerns. Thursday’s resolution doesn’t mention the jets at all.

Sup. Jeff Weigand, 20th District, was the only board member to vote against the PFAS resolutions. Weigand said he supported the public reporting but was against efforts to regulate airport activity. He said the proposal supporting the state bill “does nothing,” and he’s against passing a measure just “so we can all feel good.”

Car camping

Also Thursday, the board passed a resolution that directs staff in the county’s Department of Human Services to prepare a report on potential sites for lawful car camping for homeless people. Weigand was the only board member to vote against it, but he did not say why.

More than nine years ago, local nonprofit Madison-area Urban Ministry, now known as Just Dane, recommended that the county identify parking spots on properties owned by the county, businesses and faith communities that could be used for car camping. Just Dane also recommended creating a registration process and a community outreach program to explain the car camping to neighbors.

The new report will include ways the county could implement those recommendations and take “a fresh look” at car camping, Human Services Director Shawn Tessmann said. Staff are required to present interim recommendations no later than March 1 and a full report on the site options by June 1.

Sup. Heidi Wegleitner, 2nd District, the author of the resolution, has said implementing lawful car camping in the county is “overdue.”

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