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Peshtigo's continued journey through PFAS contamination

Town of Peshtigo resident Doug Oitzinger took this photo DATE a 1/2 block from his home. The stream drains into the bay of Green Bay. Oitzinger says foam appears seasonally, often March through May, and says A UW-Madison scientist subsequently found that its PFAS concentration can be thousands of times higher than in the water itself.
Doug Oitzinger
City of Marinette resident Doug Oitzinger lives 1/2 block from this stream that drains into the bay of Green Bay. In 2019 he started filming foam there. It appears seasonally, often March through May. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources ordered testing of the foam. Tyco/JCI subsequently found that its PFAS concentration can be thousands of times higher than in the water itself.

In the last month, the Environmental Protection Agency has taken steps to limit forever chemicals known as PFAS. The manmade chemicals have been used by industries and in countless products since the 1950s.

The EPA’s most recent announcement designates two of the most studied PFAS variations as “hazardous substances." That is good news for some private well owners in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. It adds fuels the town's fight against polluters.

When she heard PFAS were added to the Environmental Protections Agency’s hazardous substance list, Cindy Boyle issued a press release:

For communities like the Town of Peshtigo and Marinette, WI this designation is an enormous step forward in ensuring environmental health for the public while simultaneously holding corporate polluters accountable.

Seven years ago, Boyle and other residents of this small community just south of Marinette received a letter from a company that operates nearby. Tyco, since merged with Johnson Controls or JCI, reported PFAS had “migrated” downstream from its firefighting training facility toward Peshtigo.

An extended conversation with Cindy Boyle and Jeff Lamont, residents of Peshtigo, a community grappling with PFAS contamination.

PFAS has been a common firefighting foam ingredient since the 1970s. Initially, Boyle’s was one of approximately 40 private wells — their source of drinking water — found to be contaminated. Later, the count rose to more than 230.

"We found out about it fall of 2017 and Tyco knew about it since, I believe, it was 2013 and they had failed to report it to the WDNR," Boyle says.

She mobilized along with fellow Peshtigo resident Jeff Lamont. "They let us drink this for four more years before they notified the public," Lamont says.

They formed a citizen group called Save Our Water and began pushing for PFAS regulations. Wisconsin and, recently, the EPA established drinking water standards for a handful of PFAS.

But that wasn’t enough to help Boyle’s community. "Drinking water means a public utility, not those of us who are on private drinking water wells," she says.

Only groundwater rules would protect private wells."But the federal does not have jurisdiction over groundwater. So, we have only one path forward and that is through the state legislative body to get that to happen," Boyle says.

In 2022, Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board approved drinking and surface water standards but rejected proposed groundwater rules. Boyle says their group has kept fighting.

"So, that’s why we are relentless about our efforts," Boyle says.

Jeff Lamont says they turned to the EPA. "You can petition the EPA to do a scoring of your site to see if it qualifies for the Superfund process. Cindy and I filed a petition with the EPA. So when they did the initial scoring, it scored very high which meant that it went to the next step," Lamont says.

Designation as a Superfund triggers the EPA’s ability to clean up hazardous sites and to force those responsible to pay for or carry out the remediation. The EPA’s most recent announcement could strengthen Peshtigo’s case. The agency added two PFAS — both common ingredients of firefighting foam — to its hazardous substances list.

“Every step of the way, Tyco Johnson Control has fought this. After seven years, they still haven’t defined by EPA protocol the complete nature and extent of the contamination. And so, we figure, EPA coming in, they don’t put up with that baloney," Lamont says.

In a statement to WUWM, JCI/Tyco wrote: “We continue to set the standard for what good PFAS action looks like,” including installing 118 new private wells.

There’s much more to Peshtigo’s complex PFAS dilemma. Cindy Boyle says the fight continues. “Our community does not have permanent clean drinking water. Our state doesn’t have groundwater standards. And until those things are in place onward," she says.

Boyle is encouraged by what has been accomplished, saying seven years ago, no one knew what PFAS were.

"If you make a list of all of the outcomes that are the direct result of communities who are impacted like us, of innocent landowners like us who organized, advocated, educated, demanded, and there is measurable federal awareness, and that matters," Boyle says.

The DNR is currently tracking 98 PFAS-related investigations in Wisconsin.

Support for Environmental Reporting is provided, in part, by Brico Fund.


Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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