By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers’ administration announced Friday that it was proposing new groundwater quality standards for 27 pollutants that have been found to be a threat to public health, including compounds known as PFAS, which have been detected around Wisconsin.
The revised standards, if adopted, would be the first instituted in a decade. The announcement on Friday starts a process that will take years to complete and give affected businesses, farmers and people opportunities to comment.
New limits on groundwater contaminants could be costly to anyone who has to deal with mitigating them, but state regulators said the risk to public health should be weighed against possible expenses.
“We’ll work with industry and communities to figure out how to address these,” said Darsi Foss, the environmental management division administrator for the state Department of Natural Resources. “We’re going to have to start dealing with some of these new compounds and it’s going to cost money.”
Polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have gotten a lot of attention recently for being possibly toxic contaminants. They are man-made chemicals that research suggests can decrease female fertility, increase the risk of high blood pressure in pregnant women and lower birth weights.
PFAS have been used for decades in a range of products, including foam, non-stick cookware, fast-food wrappers and stain-resistant sprays. Tyco Fire Products discovered in 2013 that soil and well contamination on its Marinette fire-training property contained PFAS. In 2017, the company acknowledged that the chemicals had spread elsewhere. A month later the company began distributing bottled water to residents whose private wells may have been contaminated.
Traces of PFAS also have been detected in a number of wells in Madison. A 2017 assessment found heavy concentrations of PFAS in soil and groundwater at the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s Truax Field in Madison.
The new recommended enforcement standard for PFAS would set the limit at 20 parts per trillion, which is far below the federal standard of 70 parts per trillion.
The public comment period will take place in coming months, before the Department of Natural Resources proposes rules to enforce any new standards. That process is expected to take two and a half years, but administration officials could seek an emergency rule to enact stricter limits sooner.
The state has already been working more than a year to identify possibly hazardous compounds in groundwater and decided whether new or revised standards were needed to protect the public. Now that the recommendations have been released, the public will get a chance to weigh in on them.
The announcement will help Wisconsin return to being a leader in environmental protection, said Elizabeth Kluesner, deputy secretary of the Department of Natural Resources.
State Sen. Dave Hansen, a Democrat from Green Bay, praised the proposal and said he hoped the state would move to carry out the stricter standards as quickly as possible.