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Energy & Environment

EPA lays out roadmap for PFAS, Clean Wisconsin urges state to pass its own legislation

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On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency introduced its plan to limit the amount of PFAS people are consuming.

The roadmap includes preventing PFAS from getting in the environment in the first place, holding polluters accountable, and ensuring decision are based on science.

PFAS are group of man-made chemicals that have been linked to serious health issues.

Paul Mathewson is the Staff Scientist at Clean Wisconsin, an environmental group that focuses on making sure everyone has access to healthy air and clean drinking water.

He said it’s great to see the federal government take some concrete steps toward addressing PFAS issues.

“Particularly valuable in terms of addressing PFAS upstream in the lifecycle, at the production and use stage before it gets out to the environment. It’s something we really need federal leadership. It’s great to see all that in the roadmap,” said Mathewson.

Mathewson calls the plan comprehensive but says there are still some gaps. You can view the roadmap here.

The EPA’s timeline is longer than Mathewson would like to see, especially given that several cities in the state have already had to shut down wells over high PFAS levels, including Rhinelander.

Mathewson said just because you don’t live in one of those places, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be concerned about this issue.

“It is everywhere. It’s in those higher concentrations in some places than others. The problem with PFAS as with a lot of environmental containments. You don’t see it, you don’t smell it, you don’t taste it, you don’t know it’s there unless you’re actually looking for it and aware of it,” he said.

A 2020 investigation by WXPR found that Rhinelander is the only one of the 23 municipal water systems in the Northwoods that has tested for PFAS.

Mathewson also says the EPA plan only takes on two of the thousands of known PFAS compounds, and the roadmap is focused on public water sources, not private wells.

“Here is in Wisconsin, a third of our residents are getting their water from private wells, all sourced from groundwater. If we just rely on the EPA that will leave out protections for a third of our residents,” said Mathewson.

Clean Wisconsin wants state lawmakers to pass the CLEAR Act that would address a lot of these gaps.

It would set groundwater and drinking water standards for PFAS, provide more funding for testing, and set some regulations for PFAS in products.

“Air, soil, water, surface water, ground water. PFAS is ubiquitous. It’s found everywhere. So to be able to address it in all places where it’s found is a comprehensive piece of legislation that would really help us deal with this problem,” Mathewson said.

The bill was introduced by Democrats in May but has not gone further than that.

Other states, including neighboring Michigan, have set their own standards for PFAS within the last year.

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