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Rhinelander To Test Old Landfill For PFAS; Consultant Releases White Paper On Issue

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The City of Rhinelander will test for PFAS in the discharge liquid, or leachate, of its long-closed city landfill. The Common Council approved that action this week.

Also this week, the city’s PFAS consultant, Dr. Jim Tinjum, released a white paper with further information on the issue and its potential causes. Tinjum is an environmental engineer at UW-Madison.

Credit UW-Madison
Dr. Jim Tingum.

PFAS refers to a group of manmade chemicals that, when ingested, is linked to health risks including cancer.

Two of Rhinelander’s five municipal wells are currently offline after the discovery of high levels of PFAS in 2019.

Tinjum’s white paper explains more about the nature of PFAS and explores possible local sources of contamination.

Tinjum suggested Rhinelander test the leachate of its unlined, uncapped landfill, which has been closed for about 40 years.

This week, the Rhinelander Common Council approved the plan by a 7-1 vote.

“This would potentially identify or rule out an area that is of concern. We have a doctor who has been doing this for years who thinks that this is a good idea for Rhinelander. Therefore, I agree with his proposal,” said Council President Ryan Rossing.

Two aldermen, Gerald Anderson and Tom Kelly, expressed concern.

They wanted to know why testing would happen at the old landfill, which is located behind the former Shopko building on the south side of the city.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
The wellhouses for Wells 7 and 8, located at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport. Both were found to have excessive levels of PFAS in 2019 and are shut down.

Contamination was found in wells located at the airport, miles away from the landfill site, as Kelly pointed out.

“I think we should be looking at the airport as opposed to this. This [landfill was] closed down 40 years ago. Like Gerald says, it takes quite a bit to get this water from Shopko to the airport,” Kelly said.

In May, a WXPR investigation showed the City of Rhinelander spread hundreds of tons of wastewater sludge at the airport, near the site where the now-contaminated wells were later drilled. Experts have said this, also, is a possible source of the contamination.

Ultimately, Anderson was the only alderman opposed to spending $15,000 for the testing.

The plan will move forward.

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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