Dane County is suing the state Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, over requirements to test for PFAS, a family of forever chemicals known to cause a bevy of health issues.
A petition filed by Dane County against the state environmental agency argues that the County should not have to jump through an extra set of hurdles to mitigate PFAS . Dane County District 6 Supervisor Yogesh Chawla breaks it down best.
“The DNR issues stormwater permits for, I believe this is a point discharge at the airport, and what the permit says in the renewal is that there has to be PFAS testing as part of that. What the county is saying, in their appeal of this permit, is that they have a remediation plan that has PFAS testing as part of it, so they are trying to not do it as part of the stormwater permit, but trying to do it as part of the remediation plan,” Chawla says.
This petition specifically concerns stormwater at the Dane County Regional Airport. There are around 14 miles of storm sewers at the airport, all of which end up in Starkweather Creek, and eventually into Lake Monona.
PFAS contamination in Madison stems from Truax Airfield, at the Dane County Regional Airport. Because the chemicals are “forever” – and don’t break down in the environment – they’ve found their way into the city’s water cycle, drinking wells, and lakes.
A 2021 report from the DNR finds that Lakes Monona, Waubesa, Kegonsa and Upper Mud all contained elevated levels of PFAS, and were present in Lakes Mendota and Wingra too.
Both Starkweather Creek and Lake Monona currently have fish consumption advisories due to elevated PFAS contamination.
Amy Tutwiler is the attorney representing Dane County. She says Dane County is already testing for PFAS under the state’s Spills Law, and a remedial investigation is ongoing. She says the DNR’s additional rules for stormwater permits add extra complication to that process.
When Dane County applied to renew the stormwater permit for the Dane County Regional Airport, the DNR requested PFAS testing, which prompted this petition.
The Wisconsin National Guard completed part one of their remedial investigation in April of this year, and the National Guard is now formulating the data collected.
But would the testing from the remedial investigation meet the standards for the stormwater permit? Chawla says that nobody really knows.
“We need to find out what current PFAS testing is being done at the airport, how those results are being released to the public, and if those tests meet, exceed, or do not exceed the standards of the stormwater permit. That’s what we need to get to the bottom of,” Chawla says.
In its petition, Dane County claims that, if the DNR’s stormwater regulations stay intact, it would cost the county a quote “substantial” end quote amount of money, and would probably delay the testing already happening at the airport.
The petition was filed without the prior knowledge of the County Board, says Supervisor Chawla. In fact, Chawla says he did not even learn about the lawsuit until the day after it was filed.
“This falls under the county executive’s domain, in administrations. They have the statutory authority to issue these sorts of appeals, but we do provide oversight as the county board, so we are going to go and look into this more. This was brought to our attention June 1, so as it was brought to our attention we have been working as quickly as possible to work through it in our committee process as quickly as we can,” Chawla says.
District 24 Supervisor Sarah Smith says that she has both concerns and questions about the decision to sue the DNR, and that the county should be doing everything it can to ensure the mitigation of the harmful chemicals.
Supervisor Chawla says that he just wants everyone to be safe.
“We need to do PFAS testing that meets or exceeds the standards put forth in the stormwater permit. Whether that happens under our remediation plan, whether that’s a process the county is undertaking and doing themselves, or whether that’s done as part of the stormwater permit, what’s important to me is that those PFAS tests are done and the results are released quickly to the public,” Chawla says.
The issue will next be discussed at the county’s Environment, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Committee meeting next Thursday.
Both the DNR and Executive Parisi did not respond to requests for comment by airtime.
Photo courtesy: Luis Tosta / UNSPLASH