By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers has signed an executive order meant to curb contamination from chemicals in firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and fast-food wrappers, his office announced Friday.
Evers signed the mandate on Thursday. The order calls on the state departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to work together to set up a website on the chemicals known as PFAS, collaborate with municipalities and wastewater treatment plants to identify PFAS sources and consider PFAS when developing advisories on fish and wildlife consumption.
The DNR will have to set up a council to develop a PFAS action plan for the state, evaluate the public-health risk PFAS present and develop best practices for identifying PFAS sources and testing protocols.
The DNR also must develop regulatory standards for the chemicals. Evers’ administration in June proposed a new PFAS enforcement standard of 20 parts per trillion, far below the 70 parts per trillion federal standard. The DNR is now gathering public opinion on the standards. the DNR spokeswoman Sarah Hoye said the executive order allows the department to propose rules to carry out the new standards.
Environmental groups praised the order. Both the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin called the order a key step toward controlling PFAS in Wisconsin.
“PFAS is a public health and environmental challenge that we’re only beginning to fully understand,” Carly Michiels, Clean Wisconsin’s government relations director, said in a statement.
PFAS, or polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in a variety of non-stick products since the 1940s. The chemicals don’t break down and can accumulate over time in drinking water, living organisms and food.
The chemicals can affect growth, learning, children’s behavior and women’s fertility as well as increase cholesterol levels and increase the risk of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
According to Clean Wisconsin, more than 18 investigations into PFAS pollution are underway in Wisconsin. Marinette has one of the highest known rates of PFAS pollution in the state; drinking water there has had test results showing a concentration as high as 1,900 parts per trillion, according to the group.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday that sampling conducted in 2017 and 2018 shows PFAS is found in Milwaukee’s drinking water system, which serves about 865,000 people in Milwaukee and 16 other municipalities.
Business groups including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce have criticized the 20-parts-per-trillion standard, saying the risk to human health isn’t established and the technology to eliminate the chemicals from groundwater is extremely expensive and underdeveloped.
“We are deeply concerned that such a standard could devastate Wisconsin’s economy and significantly raise the cost of residential water,” the Water Quality Coalition wrote in a letter to the state Department of Health Services in July. The coalition includes WMC, the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance and the Wisconsin Paper Council, which advocates for the state’s paper-making industry. “(The standards) would require municipal utilities, industrial facilities, and energy producers, to reach near-zero discharge levels of compounds that are pre-existing in groundwater.”