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After Almost Two Months, Rhinelander Still Hasn’t Posted PFAS Testing Results On City Website

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Nearly two months ago, the DNR recommended the City of Rhinelander make full PFAS testing results available on the city’s website.

As of Thursday afternoon, those testing results still weren’t posted for the public to see.

In a Nov. 19 letter to Rhinelander City Administrator Daniel Guild, Steven Elmore, the program director of the DNR’s Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater, wrote the DNR recommended Rhinelander post “all PFAS results on the city website as soon as reasonably practicable.”

The next day, Elmore’s colleague echoed that recommendation in an interview with WXPR.

“We want to make sure that all of us are providing clear and the most accurate information to the public.  The easy way to do that is just to put the sample results out there,” said DNR Drinking Water and Groundwater Program Field Operations Director Kyle Burton.

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But only results taken on May 30 and June 27 were easily available, an inspection of the city website by WXPR found.  High levels of PFOA and PFOS, compounds in the PFAS family, were found in municipal Well 7 during the May and June tests, leading the city to shut down that well in late June.

PFAS compounds have been linked to health risks including cancer, thyroid disease, and higher cholesterol.

The city has been testing regularly since the shutdown of Well 7 in June.  Via open records requests, WXPR has obtained the results of testing through November.

Those tests show decreasing concentrations of PFAS compounds in Well 7, but increasing levels of PFHxS, another PFAS compound, in Well 8.  Those PFHxS levels led Mayor Chris Frederickson to order Well 8 shut down on Nov. 22, two weeks after WXPR released a story showing rising contaminant levels in the well.

Despite these actions by the city, and the DNR’s recommendation to post PFAS testing results, there appear to be no updated results on the city’s website.  However, you can view testing results WXPR compiled through open records requests for Well 7 here and Well 8 here.  The results are updated through November.

Frederickson directed questions about the lack of results on the city website to Guild.  Multiple requests made to Guild for an update on the topic received no response.

In a message to city residents on Nov. 5, Guild suggested the original tests, which led to the shutdown of Well 7 in June, might have been inaccurate.

But in the same letter recommending posting of testing results, the DNR said it had “no reason to question the accuracy” of the original tests.

On Dec. 9, the DNR labeled the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport as a “responsible party” for PFAS 

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contamination in Wells 7 and 8.  Both wells are located on airport grounds.  The DNR mentioned the airport’s storage of fire-fighting foam, a known source of PFAS, in its message.

But on Dec. 20, former airport director Joe Brauer said wastewater sludge had been injected into the ground at the airport from 1988 to 1992, casting doubt on the fire-fighting foam theory.  According to Brauer, that sludge was injected near, and upgradient of, where Wells 7 and 8 were later constructed.

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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