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Second Rhinelander Well Shut Down As PFAS Levels Continue To Rise

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Ben Meyer/WXPR
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Rhinelander Mayor Chris Frederickson ordered a second city water well shut down Friday as levels of a PFAS-family chemical continued to rise.

Earlier this month, WXPR reported Well 8 was still providing water to the city as concentrations of PFHxS continued upward.

On Friday, Frederickson said those levels caused him to order the shutoff.

PFHxS is in the PFAS family of manmade chemicals linked to health risks.  The latest sample, taken Nov. 7, showed the PFHxS level at 95.7 parts per trillion (ppt), its highest-ever reading.

Like Well 7, Well 8 is located at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.  A May sample of Well 7 showed levels of PFOA and PFOS, the two best-known PFAS compounds, above both state and federal recommendations.  That well has been off since June.

The levels of PFHxS in Well 8 have been above 90 ppt for about two months.  They’re nearly identical to 

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Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
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The Crescent Spring near Rhinelander.

levels found in Crescent Spring just outside Rhinelander.  The Oneida County Health Department declared that artesian spring “Do Not Drink” because of PFHxS levels this summer.

Neither the state nor federal government has recommendations for PFHxS limits.  But New Hampshire limits its PFHxS level to 18 ppt, and Michigan’s proposed standard is 51 ppt.

In an interview earlier this month, Rhinelander City Administrator Daniel Guild said he didn’t order Well 8 turned off because there weren’t human or animal studies showing adverse effects of PFHxS.  In fact, New Hampshire referenced several studies to that effect.

A letter sent Tuesday by Steven Elmore, the program director of the DNR’s Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater, did not direct Guild to shut down Well 8.  However, Elmore said “continued monitoring [for PFHxS] is advised.”

Rhinelander uses about 1.7 million gallons of water per day.  With Wells 7 and 8 off, the city will draw all of its water from three wells, Wells 4, 5, and 6.  Wells 1, 2, and 3 have been inactive for years.

Frederickson said the three active wells should be enough to meet the water demand for the city unless there’s a mechanical or contamination issue.

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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.