The Wisconsin Legislature and state agencies are continuing to address PFAS chemicals. Recently, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul held a listening session on PFAS in Marinette. Meanwhile, an Assembly Committee has passed a bill to address PFAS in firefighting foams.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are man-made chemicals found in many everyday products, including nonstick pans, cleaning products, paints, and firefighting foam. The most extensively studied PFAS compounds are PFOA and PFOS, which have been phased out of domestic manufacturing over the past decade. Competing studies debate whether or not these chemicals have negative health effects and, if they do, at what level they are harmful.
AG Kaul travelled to Marinette for two public listening sessions on Dec. 18.
In the Marinette area, Tyco and parent company Johnson Controls International began investigating PFAS in groundwater from its PFAS-containing firefighting foams in 2017. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) referred Tyco to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for civil prosecution in June 2019, alleging Johnson Controls failed to report the contamination when it first detected PFAS in 2013.
Johnson Controls/Tyco are currently working with DNR on developing a full remediation plan, but the company has already set aside $140 million to address the contamination, installed treatment systems, began removing PFAS in groundwater, and provided bottled water and treatment systems to affected residents.
At the listening session on Dec. 18, Kaul said he couldn’t comment on the ongoing Tyco investigation but noted that DOJ takes environmental cases like these very seriously. The AG focused the listening session on hearing from the public how PFAS contamination in the area has impacted them.
The Assembly Committee on Environment voted on Dec. 11 to recommend passage of AB 323, which would prohibit the use of firefighting foams that contain intentionally added PFAS in training, unless the testing facility has appropriate containment and treatment measures. DNR would determine containment and treatment measures by rule. The Assembly Committee on Environment held a public hearing on the bill on Sept. 3.
Authored by Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) & Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay), the bill passed the committee on a bipartisan 8-1 vote. Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) voted no, arguing the legislation does not go far enough to address PFAS.
Supporters of the bill include American Chemistry Council, American Petroleum Institute, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Paper Council, and Wisconsin Rural Water Association.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin Democrats have introduced a separate bill that would circumvent rulemaking processes and require DNR to establish and enforce PFAS standards by rule for drinking water, groundwater, surface water, air, solid waste, beds of navigable waters, and soil and sediment if DNR deems it harmful to human health or the environment. SB 302/AB 321, also known as the “CLEAR Act,” has not yet received a hearing.
Looking ahead, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) told the Wheeler Report this week that bills from the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality will be announced in January. This bill package could include measures to address PFAS chemicals.