After meeting in 15 locations around the state, the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality has likely wrapped up its public hearings. Below is an update on the last four meetings in northern Wisconsin, where the task force discussed several topics, including PFAS.
On Aug. 28, the task force met in Green Bay. Presenters at the meeting included Wisconsin Wetlands Association, Brown and Kewaunee Counties, and Fox Wolf Watershed Alliance. Also on the agenda, Alliance for the Great Lakes encouraged legislators to provide performance-based funding to meet local water quality goals. The Wisconsin Realtors Association discussed negative impacts of water quality on property values, noting that cleanup can remedy value loss.
On Aug. 29, the task force met in Marinette, where PFAS groundwater contamination has been a significant concern for residents. First, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), joined by the Department of Health Services (DHS) discussed their work so far in setting water enforcement standards for PFAS. Some task force members asked whether Wisconsin should wait to see how the federal Environmental Protection Agency chooses to regulate PFAS, but DNR strongly defended their decision to begin the rulemaking process immediately in Wisconsin. DHS noted they are in the process of developing a comprehensive risk assessment.
The agencies also provided several recommendations to legislators on the task force. DNR recommended passage of SB 310/AB 323, prohibiting the use of fire fighting foams that contain intentionally added PFAS in training, plus additional enforcement authority, more staff, and more funding for public water supply sampling. DHS recommended funding for state labs, research, and the Groundwater Coordinating Council. DHS also recommended increased staff capacity for rapid private well testing, community engagement, and producing timely recommendations.
Next, American Chemistry Council (ACC) dispelled some common myths about PFAS chemicals and countered some of the studies DHS used to reach its strict groundwater recommendation of 20 ppt. ACC supports a science-based enforcement standard that does not combine the two most common types of PFAS, PFOA and PFOS. According to ACC, all PFAS compounds have different chemical makeups and different effects in humans at different levels. Furthermore, most PFAS manufactured and used in the U.S. today can’t enter the human system.
Later in the day, Johnson Controls discussed its efforts to address PFAS contamination near its Tyco Fire Products site in Marinette. As soon as Johnson Controls found that its PFAS-containing firefighting foam leaked into offsite groundwater, Johnson Controls took actions including testing, providing bottled water to affected residents, and installing treatment systems. Tyco has since ceased all wastewater discharges from its Marinette property.
Also presenting at the Marinette hearing was the River Alliance of Wisconsin, anti-PFAS advocacy group S.O H20, and Marinette and Oconto Counties.
The task force started the Sept. 4 meeting in Menomonie with a tour of Alfalawn Farm. Then, the task force convened in a public hearing with testimony from the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, Dairy Business Association, Dunn County, Wisconsin Lakes Partnership, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, and a lecturer from UW-Stout.
What was likely the last meeting of the task force was on Sept. 5 in Superior.
First, DNR presented on its Groundwater Coordinating Council, which consists of several state agencies that analyze groundwater research and prepare an annual report to the Legislature. The 2019 report recommends protecting groundwater from nitrate, evaluation of viruses and pathogens, and addressing emerging contaminants such as PFAS.
DNR also discussed lead service lines, overviewing communities that have used the Leading on Lead program to finance lead services line replacement. DNR recommended more funding for private side lead line replacement.
Also at the Superior hearing, the Water Quality Coalition, a coalition of industry groups advocating for a science-based PFAS standard, briefed the committee on the significant statewide impacts of PFAS regulation. The group explained PFAS water treatment technologies, disposal options, and economic impacts of the extremely conservative standard proposed by DHS. The Coalition estimates costs per facility to be in the high millions. The Coalition recommended:
- Developing science to understand the actual health risks of PFAS before setting a strict standard.
- Focusing on cleanup of high contamination spots in the state.
- Avoiding a costly, unnecessary standards that doesn’t impact public health.
The task force also heard from Wisconsin’s Green Fire, which discussed nitrate contamination, flood risk reduction, Great Lakes cleanup, and the federal-state-local estuary partnership in Superior; Douglas and Ashland Counties, which discussed issues including erosion, conservation, and flooding; and UW-Superior, which discussed the Northwest Wisconsin Groundwater Monitoring Project.
Sustain Rural Wisconsin also presented to the task force, advocating for changes in policies, permitting and regulations to require sustainable farming practices. Among other recommendations, the group encouraged legislators to amend rulemaking requirements in 2011 Act 21 to “empower WDNR.”