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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Wisconsin DNR Delivering Drinking Water To Community Impacted By PFAS Contamination

Светлана Лазаренко
Firefighting foam has been linked to PFAS contamination in Wisconsin.

Late Thursday afternoon, residents of the Town of Campbell, outside La Crosse, rolled up to a Lutheran church to pick up bottled water. Others gathered in front of a Days Inn to do the same.

It marked the beginning of a drinking water advisory issued by the Wisconsin DNR Thursday, after all but one of 185 private wells tested were found to have varying levels of PFAS contamination.

PFAS is a family of hundreds of manmade chemicals that for decades have been used in many products. Often described as "forever chemicals," PFAS don’t break down in the environment and can accumulate in humans, fish and other wildlife.

Campbell is located on French Island, which is home to the La Crosse Regional Airport. Firefighting foam containing PFAS has been used there, over time.

DNR environmental management administrator Darsi Foss explained.

“Testing, training and emergency response use of that foam has resulted in soil and groundwater contamination,” said Foss. “Preliminary information suggests that PFAS concentrations exceed the DHS recommended groundwater standards in 61 of these private wells.”

Foss called water distribution the first step, “to ultimately identify the sources of PFAS on the island and to take actions to provide permanent water and the clean-up of soil and groundwater contamination.”

Thursday evening, more than 200 people tuned in to a community information session via YouTube.

While French Island residents could not ask questions directly, Office of Emerging Contaminants policy director Mimi Johnson promised more wells will be sampled.

In the meantime, she says all of the approximately 1,200 private well owners on the island qualify for emergency water.

“We’ll continue to work to sample private wells to determine the extent of PFAS contamination. The interim advisory makes all residents with private wells eligible for water from the DNR. Wells do not need to be sampled in order to establish eligibility,” said Johnson.

The DNR set up a PFAS hotline for French Island. A public meeting during which residents can ask questions is planned for mid-April.

But earlier Thursday, remediation and redevelopment program director Christine Haag cautioned the DNR can’t promise quick permanent solutions.

“I can say from our experience in Marinette, there’s not quick solution to this, it’s complicated,” said Haag.

Listen: PFAS Contamination Wider Than Thought In Marinette Well Water

The DNR has been working to tackle massive PFAS contamination in Marinette, and in the neighboring Town of Peshtigo, found in soil, sediment, groundwater, surface water, private drinking water wells and biosolids.

Haag met with Marinette and Peshtigo residents for the first time nearly two years ago.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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