By Shereen Siewert, Wausau Pilot and Review
Cleanup of toxic sites is expensive, and for Wisconsin, the emerging issue of a family of chemicals known as PFAS – per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – is coming at a time when some state leaders are making arguments to raise taxes to fund other statewide needs.
In Wisconsin, roads along with schools and health care are spending priorities for some political leaders. In neighboring Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is proposing a 45-cents-per-gallon gas tax, according to GreatLakesNow.
But now, Gov. Tony Evers wants to spend $150,000 to create a strategy for finding out where water has been contaminated by those toxic substances. In addition, Gov. Evers is proposing $50,000 to survey emergency responders who may have used certain firefighting foams.
PFAS chemicals have been used in the manufacturing of many household goods and products and waterproofing materials as well as at airports and some military sites. They’ve appeared in drinking water in dozens of Midwestern communities, and research has not been conclusive about what, exactly, the long-term effects on humans are.
In the past year, a number of sites with heavy PFAS contamination have come to light in Wisconsin. Experts say there may be many more that have yet to be uncovered. Most of Wisconsin’s known contamination sites were discovered after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency several years ago began urging the military to test at bases where large volumes of PFAS-based firefighting foam had been sprayed on the ground.
PFAS are found in a wide range of consumer products that people use daily such as cookware, pizza boxes and stain repellents. Most people have been exposed to PFAS, which can accumulate and stay in the human body for long periods of time, according to the EPA.
The synthetic compounds, which have spread widely in groundwater, lakes and streams, don’t easily break down into less harmful substances, and they are often found around places where they have been manufactured or used.
But so far Wisconsin hasn’t looked except for testing several landfills several years ago and conducting a study that found the contaminants in fish, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Nearby Great Lakes states are also grappling with the problem In Michigan, for example, the state has approximately $48 million budgeted in 2019 for PFAS with the departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services receiving the most funding, according to Scott Dean. And Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently proposed $900 million over 10 years for clean water programs but amounts for specific contaminant programs like PFAS are not now available. If approved, the bulk of that funding is widely expected to go to Lake Erie programs, Ohio EPA spokesperson Heidi Griesmer told GreatLakesNow.
Under Evers’ proposal, two scientists in a new DNR science bureau would research the contamination.
GreatLakesNow contributed to this report