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Molybdenum in Well Water Remains a Murky Issue in Southeast Wisconsin

A tongue-twisting metal called molybdenum has entered the vocabulary of some people in southeastern Wisconsin. They’ve learned it’s in their well water.  The metal exists in the earth’s crust, but when concentrations increase, health concerns mount.  WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence met a Raymond couple grappling with the unknowns.
Forty-seven years ago, Clyde and Barb Perdzok moved from a bungalow on 40th and Center in Milwaukee, to this century old farmhouse in Racine County.

Clyde supervised a foundry, but in his off hours, delighted in farming his fields and raising livestock.

The Perdzok unassuming well was tested; its water contains a concerning level of molybdenum.

He points to the well just behind the house.

Until now, the only glitch in the water system occurred when lightning struck a prized oak above our heads.

“The lightening went all the way down the pipe all the way down and burned the wires,” Perdzok says.

Back in 2009, the DNR began monitoring a handful of private wells in the area. At the start of this year, concern soared when the Town of Raymond learned its elementary school tested high in molybdenum

“The numbers been fluctuating we understand from 100 to 140, what it is today, I don’t know, but they’re on bottled water,” Perdzok says.

The Perdzoks live five miles from Raymond Elementary. Their five children went to school there – so did some of their grandkids. So when the metal levels were found to be “of concern”, the couple decided to follow DNR recommendations and have their well water tested.

Clyde found the results shocking – more than twice that of the elementary school.

“My molybdenum count here is up to 221. It’s higher than anybody else here in the area. A gentleman came out here a couple of weeks ago and he took many samples and then he was supposed to get back to us and I’m waiting for the results now,” Perdzok says.

Barb Perdzok had already stopped drinking their tap water; long before molybdenum crossed anybody’s lips.

She says the water simply didn’t taste as good as it used to.

“I used to just love the taste of this water,” Barb Perdzok says.

She admits to heightened concern. Eight months ago, she found out she has gout. It’s one health condition linked to high levels of molybdenum.

“You know I never had gout, ever; and then back about 8 months ago or so I started with it and I thought where is this coming from, I’m not doing anything different,” she says.

Perdzok doesn’t want to think the well water is to blame, she just wishes she could get answers. Long before the DNR showed up on the couple’s doorstep, Clyde set out to inform himself. He leafs through a file of information he’s accumulated on technology to eliminate molybdenum.

“This is a filter here and all that is is a mini distillery. It’s the size of a coffee pot,” Perdzok says.

Yet, the couple says informational meetings the DNR has arranged, have left them more frustrated than informed.

“Where is it coming from and how dangerous is it really,” Barb Perdzok says.

“If you could take more samples, in different areas and try to pinpoint this thing to where it possibly could be coming from,” Clyde Perdzok adds.

The Perdzoks muse – has the changed landscape caused molybdenum levels to rise? Property to the west has become landfill. To the east, a utility has deposited coal ash.

The DNR continues collecting samples, while debate persists over whether Wisconsin’s molybdenum standards are stiffer than necessary

Our bodies need a certain amount.

While information is gathered and debated, Barb Perdzok says the couple can afford to purchase bottled water. But both would rest easier, if nearby Raymond Elementary had a permanent fix.

“Our great grand-baby is going to go to the four-year-old kindergarten starting next year,” she says.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.