PFAS

UW-Madison

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/WXPREdit | Remove

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.

Ben Meyer-WXPR

Since the discovery that the chemical contaminants known as PFAS was found in Rhinelander's water, the city has been testing for the chemicals on a monthly basis.

Action by the common council this week changed the costly tests to bimonthly.

At  the  meeting, Mayor Chris Frederickson said after shutting down two wells on the city's west side after levels topped federal standards, they've been testing the remaining wells monthly...

Ben Meyer/WXPR

In a month, Wisconsin will miss a deadline for action on the chemical contaminant PFAS.

That’s the substance found in drinking water in Rhinelander and other places. It’s linked to higher cholesterol, thyroid issues, and cancer.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A WXPR investigation has found over a seven-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the City of Rhinelander spread almost 400 tons of sewage sludge at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport. 

Later, the city built two municipal water wells near the place where some of the sludge was spread. Last year, those wells were found to have high levels of PFAS, a chemical with known health risks.

Now, a nationally-recognized expert on PFAS and sludge says the contamination in the city’s water could have come from sludge spread three decades ago.

State of Michigan

A month ago, in a ballroom at a hotel conference center in a Madison suburb, social distancing wasn’t even in the vocabulary of most people.

The coronavirus wasn’t yet a threat to Wisconsin.  Hundreds of people packed into a convention to talk about, and hear about, a different threat to health--PFAS.

“It is the hot ticket issue right now,” conceded Bridget Kelly, the Wisconsin DNR’s Program Coordinator for Emerging Contaminants.

The topic is only growing hotter.

Godfrey and Kahn

As Wisconsin works toward setting up enforceable limits for PFAS in water, it’s already behind several other states.

But the federal government seems to be trailing even farther behind in protecting the public.

The man-made group of chemicals got more attention in Wisconsin once it was found contaminating water supplies like Rhinelander’s.

The contaminant, linked to health risks, is present across the country.

But the actions taken by different governments are a hodgepodge.

Ben Meyer WXPR

The City of Rhinelander is in the preliminary stages of applying for a grant to screen out PFAS water contamination from city water.

Mayor Chris Frederickson reported at the common council meeting Monday they're doing the preliminary work to eventually request a grant from the Rhinelander Community Foundation for a voucher reimbursement program..

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau/Susan Hedman

Wisconsin is the home of its own conservation hall of fame, the home of the founder of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson, and the home of John Muir.

It was the first state in America to ban DDT.

“Wisconsin has had such a long tradition in the conservation area and protecting the environment,” said Susan Hedman, the former Great Lakes Region Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Hedman says Wisconsin used to a leader in the field.  But now, it’s a leader in something else.

Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport

A law firm representing Oneida county, the City of Rhinelander and the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport has written the DNR asking them to rescind or clarify a letter declaring the airport as a responsible party for PFAS pollution in Rhinelander water wells.

Two wells near the airport have been shut down after testing found "forever chemicals" above federal levels at the wells.

Wisconsin.gov

Two state Senators and four members of the Assembly have signed onto bills to set up what are called PFAS management zones to more quickly test for the 'forever' chemicals.

Representative Jeff Mursau of Crivitz is a sponsor. He acknowledges other legislators are moving bills about PFAS forward, but he says this effort is aimed to get action right away. He says if PFAS is discovered, using the federal standard, it would begin a testing protocol...

 A Wisconsin state senator believes people living in at least one PFAS contamination area should get free blood testing for the compounds.

He would also be open to expanding the testing to other areas of concern.

Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) wants the state to approve free PFAS blood testing for people living in the Marinette and Peshtigo areas.  Companies have used the area as a testing and training zone for fire-fighting foam, a known source of PFAS.

That family of compounds has been linked to health risks like cancer, thyroid problems, and high cholesterol.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

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.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Gary Laguna’s keyring jingles often as he sorts through the right key to the right door.

He has to open them in a variety of places as the lead water operator in Hurley, Pence, and Iron Belt, three communities in Iron County.

With 18 years of experience, Laguna is in charge of ensuring a reliable flow of water to customers’ faucets and doing near-constant water quality testing.

While he plays a critical role in water customers’ lives, Laguna says many people don’t have a clear understanding of the workings of the systems he oversees.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A Rhinelander High School science class set out to create a PFAS water filter while competing in a national competition.

The class won’t advance in the contest, but it will still keep working on water quality.

Cheryl Esslinger’s Earth and Environmental Systems class was trying to design an effective, affordable filter for water.  Esslinger thought of the project after the contaminant was found in city water supplies this summer.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The City of Rhinelander injected tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater sludge into the ground above where two city wells were later located, according to the former director of the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.

This year, those wells were shut down after tests showed high levels of PFAS, a contaminant tied to health risks.

From 1988 to 1992, the city took sludge from its wastewater treatment plant and injected it into the ground at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport, former airport director Joe Brauer said Friday.

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