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After indefinite drinking water advisory on French Island, Eau Claire shuts down more wells due to PFAS contamination

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FILE: In this June 2021 photo, the Navy's Blue Angels fly over French Island, where many private wells are contaminated with PFAS. (PHOTO: Rick Solem)

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) — The city of Eau Claire has shut down almost half its wells due to PFAS contamination.

The city announced in July that it had shut down four of its 16 wells after tests found PFAS levels exceeded the groundwater standard of 20 parts per trillion as recommended by state health officials.

Now, the city has closed down three more wells after more tests showed they’re contaminated with a mix of PFAS chemicals, Wisconsin Public Radio reported Tuesday.

PFAS are chemicals found in firefighting foam as well as in many types of food packaging. The chemicals don’t break down in nature and have been linked to cancer and fertility issues.

The state Department of Natural Resources believes the PFAS contaminating Eau Claire’s wells stem from firefighting foam used at the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport. The department directed the airport to investigate in August.

Meanwhile, the department is trying to find ways to contain contamination, DNR hydrogeologist Matt Thompson said. The city is currently pumping about 5 million gallons per day from three wells into lagoons to prevent the pollution from migrating to clean wells.

PFAS contamination has been a problem in other Wisconsin municipalities beyond Eau Claire, most notably Madison, Marinette and French Island in the La Crosse area.

Last week, the state issued an indefinite drinking water advisory for French Island, as environmental regulators are prepared to spend between $500,000-$600,000 a year to provide bottled water to nearly 1,162 households there, due to concerns about contaminated drinking water.

DNR officials are worried the cost is so high it will pull money away from other PFAS investigations and evaluations.

State departments have made bottled water available to as many as 4,300 French Island residents.

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