Updated Feb. 5, 2020, at 5:06 p.m. CT
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed a Republican-authored bill Wednesday that imposes new restrictions on firefighting foam to curb pollution from PFAS chemicals.
The bill prohibits the use of foam containing intentionally added PFAS except in emergency fire situations. Firefighters will have to train with foam or other substances that don't contain the chemicals.
Foam containing PFAS could be used in testing as long as the facility has implemented state-approved containment and disposal measures to prevent released into the environment.
Violators will face forfeitures of up to $5,000 per incident.
Original story Jan. 21, 2020
Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature approved a bill Tuesday that would impose new restrictions on the use of firefighting foams, in an effort to curtail groundwater pollution. The measure passed in both the state Assembly and Senate. The topic generated heated discussion in the Senate, especially from Democrats.
Firefighting foam tends to contain man-made chemicals known as PFAS, which is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The chemicals can contaminate water and soil.
PFAS have been found in more than 30 sites around Wisconsin, including in Marinette, where a facility produced and tested the foams for decades. People near the plant have to drink bottled water because their wells are contaminated. Studies suggest that some PFAS compounds are associated with cancer, asthma, liver damage and thyroid disease.
Under the bill that the Legislature approved Tuesday, firefighting foam containing PFAS could only be used for testing purposes when a facility has adequate cleanup materials – or in the event of emergency. For instance, if a fire cannot be controlled by other means.
Several Democrats in the Senate voiced objections, including Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay. Marinette is in his district. Hansen says the bill doesn't go far enough and also should have placed restrictions on other substances that contain PFAS, such as food packaging and nonstick cookware.
"There are people back home in my district who I have no doubt are drinking poisoned water and are going to die young and they're going to have all kinds of bad medical health issues," Hansen says.
Hansen implored Republicans to act with more urgency. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, promised more legislation is on its way.
"This bill in front of us was never meant to be the only bill. We've got another bill coming relating to clean sweep which takes a chunk and there are additional negotiations with the senator and Rep. [John] Nygren and my staff to come up with something that works, that's implementable," Cowles says.
The bill limiting the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS now goes to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. He's in favor of restricting PFAS and created a task force to look for solutions. Evers has endorsed legislation calling for tougher limits on the chemicals.