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Wisconsin Environmental & Public Health Groups Intervene In PFAS Court Case

Svetlana Lazarenko
Across Wisconsin, firefighting foam has been linked to PFAS contamination.

PFAS, or so called “forever chemicals”, are manmade chemicals which don't break down naturally and can be harmful to humans. These chemicals are found in countless products including some firefighting foams.

Public health concerns around PFAS are top of mind in regions where there’s contamination, such as the Marinette/Peshtigo area and the French Island area of La Crosse. The issue also is pressing for people who wish to recreate on, or fish in a chain of waterways in Dane and Rock counties.

A lawsuit is brewing, debating whether the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is properly tending to the situation.

The Wisconsin DNR has been working to gauge the extent of PFAS contamination in the state and to hold those responsible, when that can be determined, to clean it up. The agency has relied on an existing regulation commonly called the Spill Law to move the process along.

The business advocacy organization Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) thinks the DNR is going too far. Last February, WMC filed a lawsuit suing the agency for overstepping its regulatory authority.

On Monday, a collection of environmental and public health groups — including the Wisconsin Environmental Health Networkintervened in the lawsuit, which is currently before a Waukesha County Circuit Court judge.

Network co-president and pediatrician Beth Neary said questioning the Spill Law doesn’t just increase the threat of PFAS.

“Wisconsin’s spills law plays an important part in protecting the public from exposure, not only to PFAS but to thousands of hazardous substances from industrial pollutants to manure, to agri-chemicals and this list goes on. A ruling in this case that favors WMC and undermines the spills law would have devastating consequences for the health of Wisconsinites,” said Neary. “We simply cannot allow that to happen.”

Former Marinette Mayor Doug Oitzinger said he stepped forward for the sake of his neighbors. He said his region has been grappling with PFAS since 2017.

READ PFAS Chemicals Continue To Pose A Continued Threat To Water In Northeast Wisconsin

“Without the DNR’s action, we wouldn’t know what’s going on right now and there’d be no remediation, there’d be no bottled water, we’d still be waiting. But instead, we have had action and progress is being made,” said Oitzinger. “Corporate polluters are certainly not going to hold themselves responsible, that’s why we need the spill’s law.”

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce responded in a statement Monday afternoon. Scott Manley, WMC’s executive vice president of government affairs, said the intervenors are engaging in scare tactics and misinformation.

“Our lawsuit is really simple: if the DNR wants to regulate something, they need to stay within their lawful authority and set standards in rules like every other agency in Wisconsin is required to do. Businesses deserve to know the rules of the game, and they deserve to have those rules in writing. The law requires no less, and our lawsuit asks that the DNR do nothing more than follow the law,” stated Manley.

The circuit court judge is slated to listen to the intervenors arguments in September.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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