Damakant Jayshi

Wausau’s Liberation and Freedom Committee this week advised officials to use multiple channels and three languages to distribute information about PFAS and the city’s drinking water advisory.

The advisory committee recommended that the Wausau Police Department make a video related to drinking water advisory in three different languages – English, Hmong and Spanish – with information provided by Wausau Water Works. The group also urged the mayor’s office to include all three languages for advisories published in the city’s newsletter.

Wausau Police Deputy Chief Matthew Barnes said his department is willing to help spread the message.

“I think there is value in expediting it and value in quality production,” said Barnes, who told the group their messages often go viral. “Citizens sharing it makes it more valuable and it will reach a wider audience.”

Liberation and Freedom Committee Chair Tom Kilian said one of the objectives when the committee was established in 2019 was to identify and address issues and barriers to equality. “Obviously health and safety is relevant and that is one reason why it (PFAS drinking water advisory) is on the agenda today,” he said.

Early this month, the City Council approved funding of up to $150,000 to provide bottled water PFAS and in-home filter devices, one of several solutions proposed to ease fears over the safety of the city’s drinking water.

In June 2019 the Wisconsin Department of Health Services made groundwater standard recommendations to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources which included a standard of 20 parts per trillion for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Recent testing of all municipal drinking water supply wells for PFAS showed the chemicals at levels ranging from 23 to 48 parts per trillion (ppt). All Wausau wells were above the future recommended level.

This week, the Committee discussed possible ways to reach the community urgently on the matter. New member Kelley Kolpitcke suggested that social media, especially YouTube, be used for the purpose. However, she agreed with her colleague on the committee, Chris Norfleet, that encouraging more face-to-face interactions with the community should be a priority.

Bruce Grau, another new member, agreed that more in-person connections are necessary. He also pointed out the need for urgency given that the advisory is about drinking water safety. “It’s not a water issue, it’s a water crisis. Does the City have the ability to reach every household?”

Barners said the department will need a few days to figure out the details on producing the video.