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Municipalities Largely Ignore DNR Request For PFAS Testing; Group Recommends Work At Sources

The DNR hoped to get dozens of municipal wastewater treatment plants in the state to test for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds in their water.

But when the DNR’s 90-day window closed this week, just two had responded with test results for the water contaminant.

That may be due, in part, to contradictory guidance from another group.

PFAS, a group of manmade compounds, may be linked to health risks.

In July, the DNR sent a letter to 125 wastewater treatment plants in the state, asking them to test for PFAS in their water.

In an interview earlier this month, Wastewater Section Chief Jason Knutson said the voluntary test would help the DNR learn the extent of the issue.

“We are working very hard to develop standards and also take these interim actions to scope the extent of contamination, prioritize our efforts where we can get the biggest bang for our buck in terms of protection of human health,” he said.

But Marinette and Peshtigo were the only plants that responded during the 90-day request timeline, according to DNR Water Quality Director Adrian Stocks.

Also this month, a state coalition recommended cities not bother with testing.

“I think it will be quicker, kind of jump over the initial step that the [DNR] was recommending of testing and go right to the potentially known or likely sources,” said Curt Witynski, the Deputy Director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities (LWM).

The group is concerned PFAS testing protocols haven’t been finalized, and a test of elevated levels in a city’s wastewater treatment plant could set off unfounded public fear.

The LWM and its partners instead want to work directly with industries potentially emitting PFAS compounds and encourage them to find alternatives.

“Communicate with them and ultimately, hopefully, develop some kind of plan of action to substitute out any material they’re using, let’s say, in their manufacturing process that might have PFAS in it, or maybe treating it before it enters into our wastewater plant themselves,” Witynski said.

The plan depends on voluntary cooperation from industries.  Witynski hopes industries will see value in controlling PFAS, even though there are no state or federal regulations that are currently enforceable.

“They know that eventually they’ll be subject to regulations, and there’s some advantage to getting out in front of that.  Plus, they just they just want to have goodwill.”

Wisconsin has only recommendations, not formal regulations on PFAS.

But on Wednesday, the state Natural Resources Board voted unanimously to move forward with PFAS rulemaking on groundwater, surface water, and public drinking water.

Permanent rulemaking could start in 2020.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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