Last month, the Madison Water Utility released its monitoring report on PFAS testing of Madison’s twenty-three wells. The report showed PFAS contamination at fourteen wells, and recommended that all Madison wells be tested at least once next year.
One environmental group agrees with that recommendation, but would like to see the Utility do more to address PFAS contamination.
Maria Powell is the Executive Director of the Midwest Environmental Justice Organization. She says that it could take up to ten years to develop federal standards for PFAS.
During the Water Utility’s regular meeting last night, Powell called upon the Utility to formally support the Department of Natural Resource’s efforts to create enforceable standards for the compounds now.
“State standards alone are going to take three years just for the two compounds, and we feel very strongly that we should not just wait for those standards to be developed while people are drinking and being exposed to PFAS in other ways,” Powell said. “We should act right now, we should not just go, ‘Well, let’s just wait for standards [to be developed]’.”
Powell also requested the Utility work with the Fire Department to switch to fluorine-free foam and describe how it would decide on the future of Well 15, which was shut down in March for PFAS contamination.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ standards for PFOA and PFOS are 20 parts per trillion. Amy Barrilleaux the Utility’s Public Information Officer, says that testing of Well 15 showed combined PFOA and PFOS levels of 12 parts per million. But, the well was not turned on because a third compound, called PFHxS, was found at a “concerning” level.
“Some states, like Vermont, and I believe New Hampshire, have regulated PFHxS as a combined standard with some other compounds — I think PFOA and PFOS. And so, in those states, Well 15 would be out of compliance,” Barrilleaux notes. “In other states that have regulations, [like] Minnesota, New Jersey, [and] Michigan, Well 15 would be fine, and that’s an issue because we typically look to the federal standard, [but] there is no federal standard.”
In Vermont, the sum of five PFAS compounds cannot exceed 20 parts per trillion. But in Madison, the level of PFHxS at Well 15 alone was over that limit at 21 parts per million. The well’s overall PFAS concentration was 56 parts per trillion.
Barrilleaux says that barring an extreme drought or water shortage, the Water Utility won’t turn Well 15 on anytime soon.
“Our responsibility primarily is to protect the eastside from fires, and so we have to be able to meet that, but at this point we have a pretty redundant supply on the eastside. We have a lot of other wells in that area, we are managing it as we can, [and] we have a really great water supply manager who looks at and pumps the wells to make sure that they meet demand, and that’s what we’re doing,” Barrilleaux says.
“So, I know there’s a concern in the community that we could turn the well back on at any moment, [but] first of all it takes at least a week to get a well back online, and second of all that’s not our intention. We don’t want to do anything without the community fully knowing about it, and understanding if there is a reason [or] an emergency that requires that well, that’s what we will be looking at.”
Barrilleaux also notes that over the last five years, water use in Madison has mirrored usage in 1968 even as the population has grown, and that that conservation has allowed the City to take its time deciding on the status of Well 15.
Earlier today, the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District Commission approved a resolution allowing the district to monitor PFAS concentrations in wastewater and biosolids beginning in 2020.