the stream

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Rhinelander Mayor Chris Frederickson ordered a second city water well shut down Friday as levels of a PFAS-family chemical continued to rise.

Earlier this month, WXPR reported Well 8 was still providing water to the city as concentrations of PFHxS continued upward.

On Friday, Frederickson said those levels caused him to order the shutoff.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

In the late 1990s, when Patrick Taylor moved back to his Merrill hometown, he bought a house on the water.

It was one of more than a hundred homes on a mill pond created by the old Ward paper mill dam.

“It was a great area for duck hunting,” Taylor said.

Other people on the water fished, swam, or canoed.

Then, Taylor learned the water was about to disappear.

“The day after we closed on the house, they announced the removal of the dam,” he said in an interview this week.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Note: this story has been updated to include comments from the DNR's Kyle Burton in a Tuesday interview.  Rhinelander City Administrator Daniel Guild has been invited to comment.

In a letter to Rhinelander City Administrator Daniel Guild on Tuesday, the Wisconsin DNR said it had “no reason to question the accuracy” of tests showing high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in a city water well.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The DNR admitted putting new rules on PFAS in groundwater, drinking water, and surface water will have a “significant” economic impact on the state.

DNR staff also listened to the public, environmentalists, and industry groups at a hearing over a proposed PFAS regulation scope statement last week.

Wisconsin is in the early steps of regulating PFAS, a family of chemicals with health hazards.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Once again on Thursday, a Vilas County committee rejected Trig Solberg’s attempt to collect water from a well in Presque Isle for commercial bottling.

Over a span of nearly five years, Solberg’s group has been blocked time and again by judges, boards, and administrators.  It wants to take water from near rural Carlin Lake, bottle it, and sell it in stores.  Solberg is the founder of Trig’s supermarkets.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Jim and Ruth Brennan thought the days of iron ore mining in northern Wisconsin were over.

So when Gogebic Taconite started drawing up plans about earlier this decade for a massive mine near their home in southern Ashland County, they were surprised, to say the least.

“A three- or four-mile ditch that would actually come within about a mile of our house,” said Jim Brennan.

Jim and Ruth live in the town of Morse, near Mellen and Copper Falls State Park.

Their unique house overlooks Lake Galilee.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Despite ongoing concerns about city drinking water, Rhinelander’s Common Council adopted a

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Note: This story has been updated from its original version with information about PFHxS studies in animals and humans.             

This summer, tests showed Rhinelander’s Municipal Well 7 was contaminated with PFAS chemicals.

However, the most recent tests show no detection of the two main chemicals in the PFAS family, PFOA and PFOS.  Even so, that well remains offline, and is not contributing to the city’s drinking water supply.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Records of water levels on many Northwoods lakes often only go back a few decades, if they exist at all.

But one researcher has figured out a way to see the story of lakes going back hundreds of years.

That history, and a clue about the future, is as simple as tree rings themselves.

“We’re proposing using these trees as an Excel spreadsheet, as a way to get at [the history of] these lake levels,” said Dom Ciruzzi, a UW-Madison graduate student working at Trout Lake Station in Boulder Junction.

The latest testing on Rhinelander’s Municipal Well 7 showed no detection of the two best-known per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals.

In June, the city shut off Well 7 after the combined PFOA and PFOS levels exceeded both federal and state recommendations for the compounds, which have been linked to health problems.

Since then, the city has been drawing drinking water for residents from its other active wells.

Wisconsin DNR

Levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in foam samples on the Peshtigo River spiked well above what may be safe, the DNR announced this week.

The samples were collected below the dam in Peshtigo and in a nearby roadside ditch.

Just below the dam, the PFOA level in the foam was 230 parts per trillion (ppt), and the PFOS level was about 17,000 ppt.

PFOA and PFOS are the two best-known PFAS chemicals.  PFAS has been linked to health issues.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Simple parts of life make Mary Watkins happy.

She kayaks on her lake, hosts football parties, and enjoys time with her yellow lab, Ruby.

“I have a dog.  I like to walk my dog.  I would be afraid to go out there.  You came down that road.  It’s narrow.  I think it would disrupt the quiet.  It would disrupt the whole reason everybody’s here,” Watkins said.

Watkins is talking about a company’s proposal to send three tanker semis daily down the one-lane road to her home on Carlin Lake near Presque Isle in Vilas County.

Michigan.gov

Wisconsin’s neighbor will soon become one of a few states with enforceable PFAS regulations on the books.

Michigan could have strict standards by next April, after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer endorsed a plan from the state’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

They could be enacted by next April.

“We can no longer wait for the federal government to act,” said Whitmer in a statement.

The DNR hoped to get dozens of municipal wastewater treatment plants in the state to test for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds in their water.

But when the DNR’s 90-day window closed this week, just two had responded with test results for the water contaminant.

That may be due, in part, to contradictory guidance from another group.

PFAS, a group of manmade compounds, may be linked to health risks.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Alyssa Ullrich and her husband love life on the water.

“We have the two docks.  Our ski boat goes on this lift, and then we’ve got a fishing boat that goes over on that lift,” she said, standing on her dock on a channel of the Manitowish Chain in Vilas County.

Her nine-month-old boy, Baxter, squirmed in her arms.

For weeks, Ullrich has watched the water level on the ten-lake Manitowish Chain, including her channel between Rest and Stone lakes, go down.

It does every year to protect permanent docks, lifts, and seawalls like hers from ice damage in the winter.

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