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DNR: New PFAS Rules Likely To Have ‘Significant’ Economic Impact

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Ben Meyer/WXPR
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The DNR admitted putting new rules on PFAS in groundwater, drinking water, and surface water will have a “significant” economic impact on the state.

DNR staff also listened to the public, environmentalists, and industry groups at a hearing over a proposed PFAS regulation scope statement last week.

Wisconsin is in the early steps of regulating PFAS, a family of chemicals with health hazards.

Meghan Williams, an environmental toxicologist with the DNR’s Water Quality Bureau, said PFAS regulation in wastewater, for example, wouldn’t be cheap.

“There are certain treatments that are pretty good at removing PFAS from wastewater, but there are costs that are associated with all of those treatments.  We are expecting there to be significant economic impacts,” Williams said.

The same is true for drinking water treatment.

“Treatment for PFAS contaminants at some of your larger drinking water systems can range in the $25 million range for the initial installation of a treatment plant,” said Adam DeWeese, chief of the DNR’s Public Water Supply Section.

But environmentalists indicated it’s worth it.

“They are harmful ‘forever chemicals’ that build up in the body and the environment over time.  PFAS have serious known health effects and are already contaminating Wisconsin’s waterways,” said Clean Wisconsin Director of Government Relations Carly Michiels. 

“Wisconsinites face enough barriers to clean water.  PFAS shouldn’t continue to be another barrier,” added Casey Hicks, a citizen testifying from Green Bay.  “We can’t wait for a federal rulemaking process that will take between eight to ten years from the EPA.  The DNR really needs to be a leader in setting strong standards as soon as possible.”

However, industry groups are concerned the scope of the DNR’s regulation is too broad.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Executive Vice President Scott Manley said the agency should focus only on PFOS and PFOA, the two best-known compounds in the PFAS family.

“In this instance, by including what we consider to be an open-ended approach to regulating PFAS compounds, of which, again, there are more than 4,000 of them, it’s unclear to us which substances will ultimately be in the final rule or for which the department intends to regulate,” Manley said.

The Natural Resources Board will next consider the proposed scope statements this winter.

If approved, PFAS rule drafting and review will happen in 2020 and 2021, and the rules will take effect in 2022.

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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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