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PFAS, Clean Water & Renewable Energy: Earth Week Series Features Stories From Across Wisconsin

Audrey Nowakowski
As Wisconsin marks the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, WUWM's environmental reporter Susan Bence has put together a series of stories from across the state tackling different issues facing Wisconsin's natural resources.

On April 22, 1970 Wisconsin native and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, along with others around the globe, signaled the urgent need to clean up and protect our land, air and water by marking the first ever Earth Day.

51 years later that call and need is no less important today.

Next week, WUWM will be featuring stories and interviews from environmental reporter Susan Bence — highlighting some of Wisconsin’s environmental challenges and opportunities.

Kicking off the Earth Week series will be a report on the human-made chemical called PFAS. There are thousands of them and they’re found in countless products, from food packaging to firefighting foam.

Susan talks with Kayla Furton. Her family is one of many whose private water well has been affected.

“I think back to our oldest just turned 11 and I read about PFAS coating receipts and how it’s in cookware, so we switched over all our cookware. I never let her hold on to receipts, and then we move up here, and I’m like, 'Oh, wow, I just moved intro the middle of a PFAS plume when I spent all of these years trying to reduce exposure,'" Furton says.

Later in the week, the conversation about water will continue with several environmental groups, including Clean Wisconsin. The organization met with the Dairy Business Association to come up with strategies they can all agree on to help farms thrive, while at the same time improving the quality of the watersheds they operate in.

Tom Crave is one of the proposal’s advocates. His family milks a lot of cows and grows lots of crops to feed them near Waterloo, Wisconsin.

“So the ground is covered with a protective layer, really, during the winter and into spring. Our goal is to slow down erosion — wind and water erosion,” Crave says.

The stories will take you on-site to places like the Mukwonago River Watershed, where Sarah Gatzke with The Nature Conservancy gave a tour of Lulu Lake Preserve. It’s part of 2,000 acres the conservancy has protected in that watershed alone, in part thanks to the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program.

While climate change can feel like an enormous issue, the series will show how people across Wisconsin are mitigating its impact through renewable energy, from solar job training programs in Milwaukee to grassroots organizing on Wisconsin’s western border.

Starting next Monday, listeners can hear stories during Morning Edition and Lake Effect, or find Susan’s current and past stories here on WUWM.com.

Have an environmental question you'd like WUWM's Susan Bence to investigate? Submit below.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.