As awareness of PFAS chemicals spreads across the country, eight states, such as Ohio and Michigan, have enacted regulations to limit the amount of the chemicals that are allowed in the water. Wisconsin, however, has none. But that may soon change.
On Monday, the state Department of Natural Resources finalized thresholds for acceptable amounts of PFAS and PFOA in Wisconsin’s surface and drinking water.
The DNR has set a cap of 20 parts per trillion for the chemicals, a limit that came by the recommendation of the Department of Health Services.
That would be a stricter limit than what is currently recommended by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which set a recommended limit at 70 parts per trillion in 2016..
Adam DeWeese, Chief of Public Water Supply with the DNR, says that all municipal water supplies will have to be tested for the chemicals.
“Esentially what would happen is, if they exceeded that standard, they would be required after a certain amount of time to come back into compliance. Whether it’s some sort of sibling program, or some sort of treatment, or in some instances abandoning the well that is poisoned, essentially, and either relying on other wells that they already have that are safe or drilling new wells in areas they think would be safe,” DeWeese says.
But regulation is not finalized quite yet. The regulation still needs to be formally approved by the DNR and state lawmakers.
Today, the DNR held a public hearing to listen to both water activists and members of the community give their opinions on the regulation. Ed Cohen of Oconomowoc gave his support to the decision.
“Obviously our health, recreational activities, property values, and overall quality of life depend on clean water. All of our lives depend on clean water. I therefore support (the rules),” Cohen says.
Paul Mathewson is a Staff Scientist at Clean Wisconsin, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. He attended today’s hearing and says he’s glad the state is addressing the issue. .
“So we think that these are a good starting point, especially when you combine them with the next round of chemicals that the DNR is currently working on, the cycle 11 contaminants that contain another 14 PFAS compounds. It makes sense to start with the PFOAs and PFOS, because they are the most known and most studied ones, we have the most information on them. But they aren’t the only ones out there, they are only 2 of thousands of PFAS chemicals out there. So it’s the start, and hopefully it’s just the start the process of getting standards in place to protect Wisconsin residents from all sorts of PFAS problems,” Mathewson says.
The limits put in place by the DNR would only affect community water supplies, a portion of the state’s over 11,000 wells.
Private wells would not be subject to the regulations. DeWeese estimates that around two percent of the state’s 2,000 community wells would need to be serviced in some way.
In Madison, one well on the city’s east side has been shut down since 20-19 due to concerns over PFAS contamination. City officials have been waiting on the DNR to issue specific limits on PFAS chemicals.
Laura Olah, executive director of Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, echoes Clean Wisconsin, applauding this is a first step, but says that more wells need to be tested in order to fully understand the scope of the problem.
“It’s exceedingly important because there’s no requirements for water supplies to be tested for any form of PFAS chemicals, and that means that less than 1% of the state’s water systems have been tested for PFOA of PFOS or any of the thousands of other PFAS chemicals, but this is such an important start to get some information to people so they can make informed decisions on where they are getting their drinking water from,” Olah says.
The Madison Water Utilities did not respond to a request for comment by airtime.
The regulation still needs to be officially signed by the Department of Natural Resources by the beginning of next year. After that, it will head for approval to the state legislature. If approved there, it’s expected to go into effect next summer.
Photo courtesy: Marlo Wock / UNSPLASH