Wausau Pilot & Review

Wausau officials announced on Thursday that drinking water from the newly operational treatment plant is safe to drink with lower levels of chemicals that previously prompted widespread concern.

“We are happy to assure you that the PFAS levels in the new water are below detectable levels,” city officials said in a statement. “So you are now able to discontinue use of your filter pitchers if you would like.”

Some filters were provided by the city last year when PFAS chemicals above limits recommended by health officials were detected in all the six drinking water wells. The city said the residents can keep the filtered pitchers and use them for other purposes if they chose to do so but “as far as PFAS is concerned there is no need for them.”

FAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a group of human-made chemicals used in numerous products, including non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and certain types of firefighting foam.

The water plant output was connected to the main city supply lines on Dec 20. The statement said the system needed time to push out all of the old water that was in the pipelines which should all be flushed out by now due to consumers’ daily water usage. The facility became operational last month after long delays.

The new facility aims to allow Wausau to meet future regulations, address Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources non-compliance issues and improve disinfection within the system, the statement said.  

The new plant will be viable for more than 70 years, city officials said.

“The old plant could not handle any sort of PFAS filtration system, so it was fortunate that we had the new plant in progress,” officials said. “It was set up to be flexible and we quickly addressed PFAS.”

However, questions remain on whether PFAS can be completely removed by the new plant.

In June, the Wausau Water Works Commission approved a new PFAS filtration technology, granular activated carbon or GAC, to be installed in the new water plan. According to the city’s outside financial consultant, GAC would cost the city over $16 million and will take about 18-24 months to install in the plant.

The city did not plan for PFAS removal when designing the treatment plant despite staff knowing the levels were higher than state health officials recommend, documents accessed by Wausau Pilot & Review revealed. The city also ignored a 2019 report warning about toxic chemicals in water.