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Campbell chair disappointed in DNR decision on PFAS, as safe drinking limit set is same amount that forced French Island to bottled water

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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)

For over a year, residents of the Town of Campbell on French Island have been forced to use bottled water because of PFAS.

The “forever chemical” has contained the groundwater there, most likely due to firefighting foam used at the La Crosse Regional Airport.

Wednesday, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources policy board finally took some action in regards to the dileamma that’s affecting communities all over the state and country.

The board voted 6-1 to set limits on PFAS to 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for drinking water and 7-0 to set most surface waters that can support fish to 8 ppt.

Campbell Town Chair Joshua Johnson was happy to see some action taken but pointed out in an email to WIZM the standard set is the contamination level that sent them to bottled water in the first place.

“We are very disappointed in the 70 parts per trillion (ppt) standard because we as a board feel that number is exceptionally high,” Johnson said. “The Wisconsin Department of Health Services recommends 20 ppt or lower for PFAS and Minnesota recommends 15ppt or lower.”

The DNR board did have a plan to set PFAS limits at 20 ppt for groundwater but, apparently that comes at too high a cost. DNR board member Bill Bruins said the cost to replace wells and install treatment equipment at water utilities would be “astronomical.”

“Many of our residents are drinking bottled water because their wells have been testing at 20 ppt or higher, and now the DNR Policy Board is setting limits at over three times what the Wisconsin DHS has deemed safe,” Johnson said. “It is especially disheartening that the main reason for not implementing a 20 ppt standard appears to be that it would cost too much.

“Avoiding or downplaying this problem will not make it any less hazardous to the residents of the State of Wisconsin.”

Back in early October, residents were told by the Wisconsin DNR they would be using bottled water “indefinitely.” The DNR estimated that would cost $550,000-$600,000 a year.

The Biden Administration created a type of roadmap to combat PFAS, but it appears to be more of a long-term plan.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers did have a $25 million, multi-step plan to deal with PFAS in his original state budget that included:

  • Standards for PFAS.
  • Measures to force businesses found to have released the chemicals into the environment to take responsibility.
  • Funding for certified PFAS testing labs and hazardous substance discharge investigations.
  • The GOP also eliminated 11 scientist positions at the DNR, that would have tested all public water systems for the chemicals, and created a PFAS testing lab.

That plan, however, was scrapped by Republicans who control the state Legislature. The plan the GOP put forward was stripped down to $1 million for collection of firefighting foam from over 800 fire departments across the state.

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Nick

    February 24, 2022 at 8:42 am

    I have lived in various parts of the country in my lifetime and have witnessed gross stupidity from both political parties in my time.
    The Republican Party in Wisconsin isI so far atop the stupidity list of what I have seen that it is mind boggling.
    The PFAS problem needs to be solved now. The state has a lot of federal money and a huge budget surplus.
    Action is needed now and should have already occured.
    If I were governor, I would be bringing this up daily and appeal directly to the voters to put pressure on the legislative leaders.

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