Around this time last year, W-O-R-T reported that officials had signed off on a study from a Verona-based contractor to partially remediate toxic forever chemicals at Truax airfield on Madison’s north side.
It’s part of a long-running effort from federal, state, and county officials to attempt to mitigate the effects of PFAS, the “forever chemicals” that have been known to cause cancer along with a host of other health issues, like decreased fertility and development issues in children.
Now, the results of that year-long experiment are in.
The study comes from Orin Technologies, a private company based in Verona. At the core of the study is BAM – that’s bioavailable absorbent media – which could trap PFAS chemicals in its slurry. Once trapped, microbes harvested from Truax and cultivated in the lab could break down the chemicals.
According to Michael Riechers, spokesperson for the Dane County Regional Airport, which commissioned the study in conjunction with the Wisconsin National Guard: “It’s really two parts that make this system work. One is the BAM material, the bio absorbent material, which attracts PFAS into a heavy concentration. And then this microbe is introduced and it feeds and PFAS compounds. Through the course of the first phase of this pilot process we realized that microbes that eat this PFAS need a steady supply of oxygenated soil or oxygenated material to keep living. And so a third component in this project are electrodes in the ground that generate oxygen within the soil.”
Larry Kinsman is the owner and founder of Orin Technologies. At a Dane County committee meeting presenting the findings last night, Kinsman said that, so far, data collected from a variety of environments have supported his hypothesis.
But, he also acknowledged concern about the byproducts of these chemical reactions. He claimed that the process in question is continuous.
His research partner from Fixed Earth, Timothy Repas, said, “Another thing you’ll see is some of the generations of the shorter compounds early on, so you’ll see some of those get worse before they get better. So we do sometimes see some other, shorter PFAS get created as intermediates in the breakdown before they themselves going away. But they do eventually drop off.”
But members of the public, along with members of the Dane County Environment, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee, are skeptical. They point out that the findings have not been peer-reviewed.
In attendance last night was community member Lance Green, who spent two decades administering a state Department of Natural Resources program to reduce greenhouse gasses.
Green is the co-chair of the Friends of Starkweather Creek, an organization advocating for the rejuvenation of the East side creek that’s been hit hard by PFAS and other toxic chemicals.
In 2019, testing from the state Department of Natural Resources found that Starkweather Creek contained higher levels of two main types of PFAS than any other body of water that had been tested that year.
Green drew on his professional experience to suggest that BAM may not be effective on a widespread scale: ”It’s great to have these technologies tested to see if they can destroy PFAS. That can be done in a lab. I’m not sure it’s gonna work in hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of feet up and down and around all through where these PFAS have now migrated into the ground.”
According to Riechers, the airport spokesperson, more details about the study will be posted on the Dane County Airport commission’s F-A-Q in the coming days.
The next phase of the study is to analyze the chemical footprint of a former firefighting training area near the Dane County Regional Airport that’s been shown to have high levels of PFAS that drains into Starkweather Creek.
W-O-R-T has not obtained a copy of the study, with officials saying it’s still being processed.