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Polluted water changes lives of residents of Wisconsin town

The terminal building at the La Crosse Regional Airport. Fire-fighting foams, such as those used at this airport and others, have been linked to the contamination of local water supplies by a man-made chemical known as PFAS. Such contamination has forced residents of French Island, home to the La Crosse airport, to resort to using bottled water for everyday needs. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

By DUAA ISRAR
WISC-TV

FRENCH ISLAND, Wis. (AP) — One year ago, residents of French Island in La Crosse County learned they were drinking water contaminated with high levels of PFAS, a man-made chemical that is harmful to human beings. 

“It’s one of the scariest things that’s happened to me in my life,” said Jim Walker. 

The fear of harming your loved ones, unknowingly. 

“My friends, my relatives, my kids, everyone’s been drinking my contaminated water. How would you feel?” said Walker. 

He and others now feel their future is uncertain. 

“Frustration is probably the first word I’d use and the second word is helplessness. That you can’t do anything about it,” he said. 

Jim and Margie Walker live on of French Island and they have been using bottled water to do everyday tasks. Every few weeks, the Walkers get water delivered to their front door. 

“Give us four or five big jugs that we put in our cooler,” said Margie. 

The Walkers have no choice. Their well is contaminated with PFAS, WISC-TV reported. 

“This is probably one of the worst things that’s happened to us in so many ways,” said Jim. 

PFAS is what’s called a forever chemical. It does not break down and can’t be removed using traditional water filtration methods. 

“I tried to filter it out myself down here with a couple filters and other stuff but it didn’t work,” said Jim. 

The chemical is often found in firefighting foam – like the type used at the La Crosse Regional Airport. 

“And what happened was all that stuff, the foam and everything came right through here so we were right in its path,” said Margie. 

One year later, Jim says he still finds himself reaching for the faucet. 

“You get thirsty for a glass of water, you go over, you start going over to the faucet, nope go back to the cooler. I still do that. After this long,” said Jim. 

Margie says they’ve had to adapt to using bottled water to brush their teeth, cook, and even garden. 

“It’s just your way of life now,” said Margie. 

And they live not knowing the damage the contaminated water has done. 

“But when it comes right down to it the main thing is, what effect does that water have on us, we don’t know,” said Jim. 

For the Walkers, the water contamination is stopping them from selling their home and retiring. 

“It’s like losing half of your retirement,” said Jim. 

And they don’t believe they will ever leave. 

“You just wait for somebody to give you a text or a call or email saying “guess what, we finally got this thing figured out,” said Jim. 

Jim and Margie say their roots are in La Crosse and French Island and while they hope the water contamination will be solved soon for everyone, Jim believes it may not happen in his lifetime.

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