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Bill Could Restrict WI Cities From Suing Over 'Forever Chemicals'

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A class of toxic chemicals known as PFAS have been used in products such as firefighting foam.

Wisconsin policymakers are looking to provide more aid to towns and cities faced with contamination cleanup of so-called "forever chemicals," but opponents say it comes with a stipulation which could hurt municipalities struggling with toxins.

Assembly Bill 392 would create a grant program for local governments to address Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), found in a range of consumer products, as well as firefighting foam.

However, if a city were to accept a grant, it would be blocked from taking legal action against those responsible for the contamination.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said another potential fallout concerned her.

"It may also prevent our Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from taking enforcement action against those polluters under the state's environmental remediation law," Shankland explained.

Both scenarios were detailed in a memo issued by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Council at Shankland's request.

Those in support of the GOP-led bill, including the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) group, claimed it would protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits. Research has shown exposure to PFAS chemicals can result in a range of health issues, including cancer.

Shankland raised concerns the bill comes at the same time the WMC is suing the state over its remediation law. She argued now is not the time to be stripping away tools as more cities discover possible contamination sites.

"Without resources from the state to help them test, to help people know what's in their water, and then to remediate any contamination and prevent future contamination, our state would be in the dark," Shankland contended.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, there are nearly 50 known PFAS sites spread around the state. Meanwhile, the bill recently won Assembly approval, and could be considered by the state Senate this fall.

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