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Groups Call for DNR to Mandate Statewide PFAS Testing in Public Water

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A group of 34 environmental and public health organizations is calling for the state to require public drinking water systems to test for PFAS.

PFAS are so-called “forever chemicals” linked to health risks, including cancer.

High levels of PFAS contamination were found in two Rhinelander wells last year, as well as in other water systems statewide. But there’s no mandate to test for them.

“Knowledge is power. DNR has the authority to require the testing now. What are we waiting for?” said Rob Lee, a staff attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates.

His organization is leading the push for DNR to require public water systems to test for PFAS.

Right now, there are no enforceable regulations on PFAS concentrations in drinking water, only state and federal advisories.

Earlier this year, a WXPR investigation found only one of the 23 municipal water systems in the Northwoods did any PFAS testing.

That was Rhinelander, whose tests found high levels of PFAS in two of its five wells.

Lee thinks PFAS testing should be made mandatory, like testing for other contaminants.

“Any water system that is used for drinking water and is required to test for other contaminants like lead or nitrates or PCBs should ultimately have to test for PFAS as well,” he said.

Two years ago, Michigan instituted a statewide testing program, but Wisconsin hasn’t done anything similar.

The DNR is working through a PFAS rulemaking process, but that will likely take years.

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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