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PFAS in Wisconsin workshop highlights progress and struggles communities face when dealing with contamination


Rhinelander is in the process of scouting locations for a new wellafter two of its wells were shut down over PFAS in 2019.

At least two dozen families on private wells in the Starks area in eastern Oneida County are currently using bottled water for drinking and cooking as their water levels are testing at extreme PFAS levels.

The City of Wausau had to install a filtration system that will cost $800,000 a year to maintain to remove the PFAS from its water supply.

The Wisconsin DNR is preparing for more communities to have to take similar actions as they begin to test for PFAS.

Kyle Burton with the DNR says he’s the one that makes a lot of the calls to towns and cities if they find the chemicals in their drinking water supply.

“We expect that a situation where maybe 20% of the communities in Wisconsin are impacted by PFAS but if you are in that minority of communities that are impacted by PFAS and the folks on the panel will talk about this it is a heavy burden and we want you to know that we at the DNR are here to help you through that process,” said Burton.

Burton made the comments during a panel discussion of Best Practices for Affected Communities at Wisconsin's Green Fire’sPFAS in Wisconsin workshop in Wausau on Wednesday.

The event was geared toward helping local leaders to understand and protect communities from the risks of PFAS contamination.

As of May 1, all municipal water systems are starting to test for PFAS.

But there are still no requirements for private wells which provide water for about 30% of Wisconsin residents.

Cindy Boyle also spoke on the panel. She’s the former chairperson for the Town of Peshtigo where PFAS has contaminated the area and impacted hundreds of residents with private wells.

“On private drinking wells, we need state groundwater standards. We do not have them. We tried myself and others with S.O.H2O have testified at senate committee hearings. We have helped draft legislation around PFAS, some of which has seen the floor, some of which has not. But we have no protection,” said Boyle.

The EPA’s proposed rule regarding PFAS standards does not include requirements for private wells.

Wisconsin launched a new toolkit to help communities address PFAS-contaminated drinking water.

The resource gives background on what PFAS are, options for what to do if it’s found in your drinking water, and how to get assistance from state agencies.

PFAS are a group of manmade forever chemicals linked to health risks.

DNR Secretary Adam Payne says clean drinking water is a priority for his department and the Governor’s office.

“Wisconsin is experiencing more and more detections, more and more communities that are struggling from PFAS. We don’t want to frighten people. We don’t want to be alarmists, but we have to pull together and learn about this and be prepared to respond,” said Payne.

The toolkit goes through some funding options available to the communities dealing with PFAS contamination.

There will be millions in federal funding from the bipartisan infrastructure act to support those efforts.

“But it isn’t the full bill. How do you match the difference? How do you match those funds? Some small communities don’t have the ability to pass that on and it’s not their fault that they have PFAS in their water. We need to be prepared,” said Payne.

You can view the community toolkit here.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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