Wausau Pilot & Review

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on Tuesday unveiled a new interactive tool that shows the impact of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances throughout the state, according to a statement released by the agency.

The PFAS Interactive Data Viewer combines publicly available information from multiple sources across the DNR’s website into one tool for easy navigation of information about PFAS in the state, the DNR said in the statement.

“This tool will help us consider these different impacts so we can collaborate on solutions to address this very complex contaminant,” said DNR Secretary Preston D. Cole.

PFAS are a large group of human-made chemicals – currently estimated to be around 9,000 individual chemical compounds – that are used widely in consumer products and industry. They can make products resistant to water, grease and stains and protect against fire. According to the DNR, these chemicals are also used in non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, and certain types of firefighting foam.

The City of Wausau found that its drinking water wells contained PFAS during a voluntary testing early this year. The chemicals levels ranged from 23 to 48 parts per trillion (ppt). The levels exceed the proposed drinking water standard of 20 ppt, a level based on recommendations from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

However, the city’s Department of Public Works and Utilities insisted that water was safe, though the city’s documents reveal that water was found to be contaminated in 2019. City documents show that officials were aware, in 2019, that the city would need to address toxic chemicals in drinking water while a new treatment facility was being planned, but did not inform the public.

Efforts to downplay the risks posed by PFAS still continue in the city and beyond. While the Public Works Director Eric Lindman continued to claim that drinking water is safe, the city’s elected officials took several measures, including providing bottled water and filter devices to residents to launching a pilot study on PFAS removal to adopting a new filtration system to remove PFAS from water.

The DNR’s interactive tool displays locations with known contamination, PFAS-related fish and game consumption advisories and waterbodies throughout Wisconsin sampled during targeted or routine monitoring.

The DNR said that at present, a viewer can pull data from the Surface Water Integrated Monitoring System (SWIMS)Bureau for Remediation and Redevelopment Tracking System (BRRTS) on the Web (BOTW), the DNR’s fish consumption resources and Drinking Water System Portal. The data presented in the viewer capture sampling results but do not necessarily reflect current levels of contamination or risk.  

DNR begins collection of PFAS-containing firefighting foam waste

Meanwhile, the DNR has announced launching a drive to collect PFAS-containing firefighting foam waste from fire departments throughout Wisconsin.

Issuing a statement on Monday, the state agency said it was celebrating the start of a collection and disposal program for PFAS-containing firefighting foam waste while at a collection event in Appleton.

The 2021-23 biennium budget provided $1 million for this initiative, said the DNR. It added that Wisconsin-based North Shore Environmental Construction, Inc. will be collecting and disposing of at least 25,000 gallons of PFAS-containing firefighting foam waste.

“Removing PFAS-containing firefighting foam from our local fire houses is an important step in not only protecting firefighters from occupational exposure to PFAS, but also protecting our land and water from contamination during emergency fire operations,” said DNR Secretary Preston D. Cole.

Under state law, use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam is prohibited except during emergency firefighting operations or during testing at a facility.