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Environmental groups push for rule on firefighting foam, decry industry influence
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Environmental groups push for rule on firefighting foam, decry industry influence


A coalition of environmental organizations is calling on Wisconsin’s natural resources policy board to approve temporary regulations on the use and storage of firefighting foam containing hazardous chemicals known as PFAS.

The Natural Resources Board earlier this month voted to table a rule that would establish guidelines on containment and disposal of the chemicals, which have been linked to cancer and other illnesses and don’t break down in the environment, after industry groups and some Republican lawmakers objected to some of the proposed standards.

Ten groups — including Clean Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates, the PFAS Community Campaign, Sierra Club and Wisconsin Conservation Voters — sent a letter Thursday urging the board to implement what they called “an incredibly modest step towards addressing the burgeoning PFAS pollution problem our state faces.”

“We were extremely disappointed to see the approval of this rule and the modest protections against PFAS pollution it offers delayed at the behest of a coalition of business, industry, and manufacturing organizations with a financial interest in weak regulations,” the letter states. “Profits should not come before public health and clean water.”

The rule was drafted in response to legislation passed last year known as Act 101, which restricts the use of fluorinated foam to emergency situations and testing facilities that the Department of Natural Resources determines to have “appropriate containment, treatment and disposal measures.”

The law requires the DNR to adopt an emergency rule 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.

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

Board members referenced a letter from Wisconsin Manufacturers 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 industry 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.

The environmental groups said they were “surprised and disappointed” by the board’s decision to delay what they call a modest but “important first step” that should not be controversial.

“A few industry PFAS-users stepped in at the very last minute to wield an unreasonable amount of influence and put profit over public health,” the letter states. “We believe protections and policies from harmful pollutants should be crafted for the victims of environmental pollution, not those responsible for the polluting.”

The letter also disputes the industry groups’ legal argument, saying the DNR followed procedures and did exactly what the law required.

“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.

The bill’s authors did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

In a statement issued last week, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said the “straight-forward piece of legislation” passed with broad bipartisan support.

“The intent of Act 101 is clear and any delay in its implementation ultimately hurts the residents of Marinette and Peshtigo and the rest of Wisconsin,” Nygren said. “I hope that any hurdles to moving forward with this important legislation are cleared as soon as possible.”

Photos: Scenes of unrest in Kenosha following the shooting of Jacob Blake

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