The Environmental Protection Agency advises against drinking water that contains more than 70 parts per trillion of PFAS, a family of hazardous chemicals that are sometimes called forever chemicals.
Yesterday, the City of Madison announced new test results at the Dane County Airport finding PFAS contamination at levels thousands of times in excess of that number, reaching as high as 68,000 parts per trillion.
PFAS chemicals are found in a number of consumer goods. They’re also easily distributed to the environment through certain firefighting foams. High concentrations of PFAS in Marinette were linked to the site of a manufacturer of these foams. In Dane County, concentrated levels of PFAS are located near the Dane County Airport, where for decades, the National Guard and local firefighters conducted trainings using suppressant foam laden with the hazardous chemicals.
A bulletin from the City of Madison yesterday emphasized that the pollution is present in shallow groundwater, which is separate from the aquifers used for drinking water. While one Madison drinking well near the Dane County Airport has been shut down for more than a year due to PFAS levels, all active wells in Madison have concentrations of PFAS well below the recommended threshold.
The Wisconsin State Journal reports that this fall the Common Council approved $50,000 for continued testing of the airport and nearby National Guard Fighter Base. This comes after the Dane County Board approved $200,000 in new funding to address air port contamination last year.
The State Journal also reports that a 2018 DNR report found Dane County, the City of Madison, and the Air National Guard sharing responsibility for the contamination, stemming from firefighting training between the 1950s and the 1980s.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs announced a new website yesterday for the PFAS process. The federal government is currently investigating the contamination at Truax Airfield. The cleanup is currently in remedial investigation – phase three of a process known as CERCLA, or more commonly known as Superfund.
The news comes as a state action council charged by the Governor to address the forever chemicals have announced their plan for action.
The Wisconsin PFAS Action Council, or WisPAC, today announced several recommendations for addressing current PFAS levels, and preventing future increases across the state. Among these recommendations are establishing PFAS standards for groundwater and soil, as well as providing support and information to communities highly affected by contamination.
In a media briefing about the plan, DNR Program Coordinator Jason Lowery said there’s still plenty more work ahead to address PFAS pollution.
“We found PFAS at concentrations of concern in groundwater, drinking water, surface water, fish, and wildlife…the sampling so far confirms that PFAS have impacted Wisconsin, but there’s a lot more work needed, and hopefully this action plan will pave the way for some of that future work,” Lowery said.
DNR Environmental Division Administrator Darsi Foss says the plan only contains recommendations. She says it’s up to the Governor and the state legislature to prioritize.
“This is basically a blueprint, people can pick and choose based on what they feel are their priorities, but we’re willing to work with anybody and everybody on moving these forward,” Foss said.
The DNR expects to start testing wells in different municipalities across Wisconsin beginning this winter. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the action plan was not included in the DNR’s budget request submitted in September.
Editor’s note: This story has been edited to better reflect the cleanup process at Dane County Regional Airport.