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State to provide bottled water to French Island residents

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The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says the state will provide free bottled water to about 4,300 residents of French Island in La Crosse County due to concerns about groundwater pollution from PFAS “forever chemicals.”

The chemicals have been linked to causing cancer and a wide array of other illnesses. Under the advisory issued Thursday, any French Island residents who aren’t already getting bottled water from the city can receive it from the Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR says tests have revealed at least 184 private wells around the airport contain some level of PFAS and of those 61 exceed the state’s PFAS standard.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said Thursday that the state will provide free bottled water to about 4,300 residents of French Island in La Crosse County due to concerns about groundwater pollution from PFAS “forever chemicals” that have been linked to causing cancer and a wide array of other illnesses.

The chemicals were first detected in French Island wells in 2014. The contamination has been traced to several plane crashes at La Crosse Regional Airport, where PFAS-containing firefighting foam was used, as well as routine yearly testing of foam by the airport.

Tests have revealed at least 184 private wells around the airport contain some level of PFAS and of those 61 exceed the state’s PFAS standard for the chemical, said Darsi Foss, administrator of the Department of Natural Resources Division of Environmental Management.

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat disregarded state guidance and only supplied bottled water to French Island residents with PFAS contamination over 20 parts per million in their wells.

On Thursday, drivers lined up at the Days Inn and the Olivet Lutheran Church, both near the airport, to pick up free cases of bottled water donated by the Hy-Vee food stores.

Each vehicle responding to the offer received two cases of bottles for each person in the household. Hy-Vee is preparing to open a local store at Valley View Mall, in the former Sears store.

The city of La Crosse is providing bottled water to 54 residents south of the airport, the Department of Natural Resources said. In the Town of Campbell, located on the southern part of French Island, there are about 4,300 residents who rely on nearly 1,200 private wells to supply drinking water.

The cost to provide bottled water will be $200,000 or more, depending on how many people want it and how long the state provides the service, Foss said.

The city of La Crosse earlier this month filed a lawsuit against dozens of chemical manufacturers alleging they’ve known since the 1960s that the foam would pollute the area’s groundwater but continued to manufacture and sell it without warning customers, jeopardizing public health.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, don’t easily break down in the environment and have been used for decades in a range of products, including stain-resistant sprays. They have been detected in humans, wildlife, fish and in the groundwater, surface water, soil and air. They have also been found in more than 40 rural and urban areas across the state, including in Marinette, Superior, Madison and Milwaukee.

The chemicals, which largely enter the human body through drinking water, have been linked to a wide range of health ailments, including kidney and testicular cancers, high blood pressure, harm to the immune and reproductive systems, lower birth weights and altered hormones.

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