Yesterday, the city of Madison released a tentative plan to mitigate PFAS contamination at one of its wells. Well 15 has been shut down since March 2019, after community members raised concerns over PFAS contamination at the site.
The well, located in northeast Madison, is about a mile away from the Truax Air Field — the site of the Wisconsin Air National Guard, current home to F-16 fighter jets and future home to the contested F-35 jets.
Mitigating PFAS contamination in the well could be a costly proposition, according to a new report analyzing possible solutions to fix the contamination.
The report recommends using a filtering system that uses activated carbon. Just installing the system comes with an estimated $825,000 price tag. And each year, materials and maintenance for the system could cost the city between $50,000 to $300,000 to operate. Those estimates don’t take into account the cost of additional construction on the well needed to install the filtering system.
PFAS have been linked to a number of potential adverse health effects, many of which are still being studied. And they’re notoriously difficult to remove from an environment once released. The filtration system at Well 15 won’t address the groundwater contamination in the water table. Instead, it would filter the water as it’s extracted from the ground.
Joe Grande, Madison’s Water Quality Manager, says that — to receive approval from the state — the filtering system will need to be able to filter down about ninety percent of PFAS from the well’s water.
“We established our treatment objective to be ninety percent, because that ninety percent would typically get the results below detection for these PFAS compounds,” he says. Grande adds that the new filter is still just a recommendation — a final decision on how to address PFAS at Well 15 is likely still a ways off.
“This is the initial step in terms of identifying a process that can reduce PFAS. We have not made any decisions on whether we’ll move forward with that. Later this year, we’ll be looking at a process to determine if this is the most cost-effective way for making up this lost supply of water on the east side when we shut down Well 15.”
Well 15 has been out of operation since 2019, when the water utility shut it down amidst public pressure to address the PFAS contamination. In 2018, an analysis commissioned by the city linked the contamination to nearby Truax Airfield — where the Air National Guard had, for years, used flame retardant, PFAS-laden firefighting foam.
Alder Syed Abbas represents the area on the Madison Common Council. Although Well 15 itself falls just outside his district’s lines, it does serve a number of his constituents.
He says the cost of installing and running the proposed filter should be split between the Air National Guard and local government.
“One-time costs can go in our capital budget, or however we can adjust,” Abbas says. “The issue is the operational cost, so I’m really curious to see who’s going to pay for that. If the city’s going to pay, I strongly believe the Air National Guard and Dane County should have to take responsibility for this contamination as well.”
According to the Water Utility, the PFAS contamination at Well 15 doesn’t exceed state or federal drinking water standards. Despite that, the city opted to keep the well closed while the state’s Department of Health Services drafts new groundwater standards for one member of the family of forever chemicals found in the well.
And it isn’t just Well 15 that’s facing this issue. All of the city’s municipal wells have at least trace amounts of the chemicals, and elevated levels of PFAS have been detected in all of Madison’s lakes.
According to a 2019 study conducted by the city, PFAS is so ubiquitous in modern life that trace amounts of it can be found in the blood streams of most residents.
The water utility’s report and proposals now go to both the city’s Water Utility Board and Water Quality Technical Advisory Committee for deliberation later this month.
Meanwhile the Air National Guard, Dane County and the City of Madison are poised to submit an interim plan to the state’s Department of Natural Resources this Friday on how to stop the spread of PFAS contamination into Starkweather Creek.
(PHOTO: Well 15, City of Madison)