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More communities test for PFAS amid discussions of proposed state standards

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As state lawmakers discuss setting new standards for PFAS, communities across northern Wisconsin are testing for the ‘forever chemicals’ for the first time.

PFAS are manmade chemicals found in water that never break down and can contribute to negative health outcomes.

Testing for the chemicals is not mandated by the state or federal government, but in the past year, more communities have voluntarily tested wells for PFAS.

“We knew standards were coming along, and at some point, we knew the DNR would look at all wells within the state of Wisconsin and have us all test for PFAS,” says Brentt Michalek, Park Falls’ city administrator. “We wanted to know right up front what it was we were dealing with, so we had all of our wells tested.”

The testing revealed that two of the Park Falls wells had no PFAS contamination. The other three had levels significantly below proposed state standards.

“Fortunately, citizens of Park Falls are safe to keep drinking what we’re pumping out of the wells,” Michalek says.

But communities south of Park Falls have not received the same results.

The town of Rib Mountain shut off one of its wells in December over PFAS concerns.

And Wausau found evidence of PFAS in all of its wells earlier this month.

Other Northwoods communities have yet to test for the chemicals.

Just two years ago, a WXPR investigation found that Rhinelander was the only city across Oneida, Vilas, Forest, Lincoln, Langlade, and Iron counties to have undergone PFAS testing.

Erin Gottsacker joined WXPR in December 2020. As a Morning Edition host and reporter, Erin reports on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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