By Shereen Siewert

Rib Mountain officials are taking steps to ensure public safety after voluntary testing revealed the presence of toxic chemicals above the state’s recommended enforcement standards in one of four wells supplying water to the town.

Well number one, located at roughly 224505 Lilac Ave., was shut down immediately when per and polyflouroalkyl substances (PFAS) were detected at those levels, said Rib Mountain Sanitary District Director Michael Heyroth. Rib Mountain is now using only water from the remaining three wells, while conducting ongoing testing to determine the extent and origin of the contamination.

“It is important to know Rib Mountain residents and businesses can safely continue to use and drink from the water supply as normal,” Heyroth said.

The immediate action, shutting down well number one, was taken as a precautionary measure to protect the public’s health and safety until further testing, evaluation and investigation can be completed, he said.      

The proactive testing, performed in November and December, were part of the Sanitary District’s process of designing a new water treatment plant. Though all four wells showed some levels of PFAS, only one was at a level that prompted health concerns.

During a media briefing held Tuesday, Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services site evaluation coordinator Nathan Kloczko said the possible health effects of PFAS are somewhat uncertain and can be situation-specific based on the level of contamination and exposure. Some health effects can include an increase in cholesterol, a decrease in antibody response, thyroid disease and other developmental effects, he said.

Heyroth said additional tests are underway and will continue in all four wells to ensure ongoing drinking water safety. Tests will also be performed around the well that showed above-standard contamination to help officials pinpoint the cause. All municipal wells will be monitored as the Sanitary District continues working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and health officials to ensure the risk from PFAS is low and the drinking water supply is safe for residents and businesses.

In addition to ongoing efforts to determine any possible sources of PFAS, the Rib Mountain Sanitary District will work with the DNR on treatment technology to reduce or eliminate PFAS levels and options to use alternate water sources should the need arise, Heyroth said.

Under the direction of the DNR, the drinking water is tested many times each year for several hundred compounds.

Rib Mountain launched an information website to keep residents informed and up to date on this evolving situation. Bookmark the website, here.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s. They have been used in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, some firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil, according to the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry. 

During production and use, PFAS can migrate into the soil, water, and air. Most PFAS do not break down, so they remain in the environment, health officials say. Because of their widespread use and their persistence in the environment, PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world and are present at low levels in a variety of food products and in the environment. According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, some PFAS can build up in people and animals with repeated exposure over time. 

No illnesses have been reported in Rib Mountain to date.