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Wisconsin Solid Waste Professionals: ‘We Don’t Generate PFAS’; Form Coalition To Address Issue

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Ben Meyer/WXPR
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Wisconsin landfills are concerned they’re taking the blame for PFAS contamination.

But a new coalition of solid waste professionals points out landfills and recycling centers don’t produce the chemicals, they only receive them from other sources.

“We, as an industry, whether it’s a landfill, compost facility, or recycling facility, are saying, ‘Wait a minute.  We’re just receiving the stuff you don’t want, the stuff that you are buying, you, society, that you’re buying to make your life better,’” said Meleesa Johnson, the Marathon County Solid Waste Director and President of the Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin.

PFAS are a family of manmade contaminants linked to health risks like cancer, thyroid disease, and high cholesterol.  However, they’re used in products like Teflon, Scotchgard, and fire-fighting foam.

Johnson hopes the new solid waste coalition will find short- and long-term solutions to the PFAS issue.

The coalition said it’s been done before, like when chlorofluorocarbons were reduced after being found to deplete the ozone layer.

But Johnson said it has to be a collaborate process.

“We will never solve the garbage problem, whether it’s PFAS or throwing away too much food waste, we will not solve the problem until we engage everybody in the process,” she said.

One issue is the interaction between landfills and wastewater treatment plants.

Landfills often send their leachate to the plants for treatment, and the plants send sludge to landfills in return.

But in some parts of the state, that relationship is breaking down over PFAS concerns.

“Talk about a zero-sum game.  That’s not good at all.  We need to work together.  We need to engage a broader audience in this discussion.  We need some short-term strategies, but we clearly need a long-term strategy so 50 years from now we’re not doing this filtering and cycling the PFAS through filters back into disposal, from filters back into disposal,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the focus on PFAS cleanup should start with industries emitting the chemicals.

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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.