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More than half of private wells tested for PFAS in Stella have come back positive for the forever chemicals

A map of PFAS results in the Town Stella in eastern Oneida County.
Wisconsin DNR
A map of PFAS results in the Town Stella in eastern Oneida County.

Nearly 100 private wells have been tested for PFAS in the Stella and Starks area of Oneida County.

More than half have come back with at least a trace of PFAS contamination.

PFAS was first found in a private well in Stella about a year ago during a random sampling project by the Wisconsin DNR.

That first well came back with levels thousands of times higher than the Wisconsin Department of Health’s safe drinking water standard.

Since then, dozens more wells have been found to have the forever chemicals.

The concentration of PFAS varies greatly.

Twenty-six wells have tested positive but are below the state health standard of 20 parts per trillion [ppt].

As of July 2023, 39 wells have come back with levels above that standard. Those range anywhere from 20 ppt to as high as 45,000 ppt.

Currently, the DNR has opened free testing to roughly 120 homes within a 2.5-mile radius of the Stella Town Hall.

The state is providing water to homes with PFAS levels above the state health standard.

The recently passed state budget includes $125 million dedicated to PFAS issues.

The DNR says that money can be used to continue providing temporary alternative water sources for people in Stella as well as help homeowners and community leaders find a permanent solution.

The DNR declined an interview with WXPR but did answer questions via email.

In its response, the DNR said it's continuing to collect information and evaluate potential sources of the PFAS contamination.

The DNR said, “While some potential sources or source activities have been discussed, there is a chance the community and impacted well owners may not be able to identify a single source/sources.”

The DNR plans to hold another town hall to update residents later this summer.

The meeting will focus on helping people apply for the Well Compensation Program and discuss new well construction and treatment options.

People can stay up to date on the PFAS situation on the DNR’s website. You can subscribe to an email list to get notifications whenever there’s an update. That’s also where you’ll find information on the Well Compensation Program and getting water.

In other parts of North Central Wisconsin, Rhinelander still has two wells shutdown over PFAS concerns. The city is currently evaluating sites for a new well.

There’s a fish consumption advisory for Lake Mohawksin on the Wisconsin River near Tomahawk. There’s also an advisory for fish consumption for Lake Superior along Wisconsin’s shoreline.

In those areas, the DNR and DHS recommend people limit how many of certain fish species they eat each week because of high levels of PFAS found in the fish.

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