Wisconsin would take steps toward protecting the public from a serious, emerging health hazard, under Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal.
Evers wants to spend $150,000 to create a strategy for finding out where water has been contaminated by a group of highly toxic synthetic chemicals commonly known by the acronym PFAS.
Several Wisconsin sites with heavy PFAS contamination have come to light in the last year, and there may be many more that are as yet undetected.
Scientists say the compounds have spread widely in groundwater, lakes and streams. They are often found around places where they have been manufactured or used.
But so far Wisconsin hasn’t looked except for testing several landfills several years ago and conducting a study that found the contaminants in fish.
Most of the known PFAS contamination sites in the state were found because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency several years ago began urging the military to test at bases where large volumes of PFAS-based firefighting foam had been sprayed on the ground.
The synthetic compounds don’t easily break down into less harmful substances, and they have been used for decades in thousands of products, from nonstick pans to food wrappers to fabric protectors.
States such as Minnesota, Michigan and New Jersey began looking for PFAS years ago. They have had to close down water supplies and ban fishing from certain lakes to protect the public.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has been consulting with officials from Minnesota.
Instead of testing every public water system and hundreds of thousands of private wells, some states have zeroed in on likely sources of PFAS contamination and conducted testing of water around those locations.
Certain manufacturing plants along with airports, military bases and wastewater treatment plants have been found in other states to be frequent sources of PFAS pollution.
The chemicals are linked to an array of serious health problems from cancer in adults to stunted development in children.
The Truax Air National Guard base in Madison has polluted soil and shallow groundwater with PFAS levels approaching 40,000 parts per trillion, far in excess of a controversial 2016 EPA drinking water advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion. PFAS below the EPA level has been detected in Madison drinking water drawn from a nearby municipal well.
In addition to $150,000 to develop a strategy for finding PFAS sources, Evers is proposing $50,000 to survey emergency responders who may have used PFAS-based firefighting foam. Two scientists in a new DNR science bureau would research PFAS contamination.