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Consultant: Test Old Rhinelander Landfill For PFAS Contamination


The City of Rhinelander's municipal Well 7, now shut off because of PFAS concerns, is located at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.
Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR

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A UW-Madison engineering professor recommends Rhinelander test its old municipal landfill for PFAS contamination.

Dr. Jim Tinjum, who was hired by the city as an environmental consultant, says the closed landfill could be the source of PFAS contamination in the city’s water.

Over the last year, Rhinelander has shut off two city wells with high levels of PFAS, a contaminant linked to health risks.

At a Common Council meeting this week, Tinjum said it’s possible Rhinelander’s municipal landfill could be the source of that contamination.

“One of the potential sources could be that landfill. I just say ‘could be.’ We don’t know. Other landfills are similar sources of these compounds,” Tinjum said.

The landfill, located on the city’s south side, operated and was closed decades ago.

“I’m not making any decisions about the closed Rhinelander landfill other than it is unlined,” Tinjum said. “It was built, constructed, and closed before modern landfill design schemes came into place in Wisconsin.”

Tinjum recommended the city do two rounds of testing, which would cost about $15,000.

“You start ruling things out. Do I have PFAS in the landfill, or [do I] not? Your landfill has experienced hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars of testing and models in the past, but that wasn’t for PFAS. That was for other things. I don’t know what’s in the landfill. I don’t know if PFAS is there, but it’s a fairly cheap thing to just go test,” he said.

Tinjum said it’s possible PFAS from the landfill could have gotten into Rhinelander’s aquifer.

Also, leachate from that landfill was taken to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

A WXPR investigation released last month showed the city spread hundreds of tons of sludge from the wastewater plant near the site where the contaminated wells were later drilled.

The Common Council took no formal action toward landfill testing Monday night, but may consider it later.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He then contributed with periodic stories until 2024. 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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