Environmental Protection Agency launches PFAS Action Plan

Published: Jun. 25, 2019 at 4:02 PM CDT
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A chemical known to cause damage to the reproductive and immune system will now be more strictly monitored in Wisconsin.

The announcement made last week is in response to an ongoing investigation in the Town of Peshtigo in Marinette County where a chemical known as PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) was found in people’s wells.

The chemical is found in firefighting foam, which was manufactured at the nearby Tyco Fire Protection Products. That type of foam is no longer used at Tyco.

While the Department of Justice’s investigation continues into whether the company knew about the contamination, state officials are taking action in Madison.

The Environmental Protection Agency is also looking into stricter regulations when it comes to monitoring of PFAS.

“We are taking a look at it. I am actually running point for U.S. EPA,” said David Ross, assistant water administrator with the EPA.

Ross said it is one of his top priorities.

“I will be honest with you, when I was sworn in January of 2018, I knew about this issue coming in, but I didn’t realize it would be one of the big 2-3 things to work on in my tenure. I spend as much or more time on PFAS, as anything else I work on,” said Ross.

Ross said they’ve created a PFAS national action plan.

“We tasked our office of research and development with a lot of high-priority work over a short period of time, developing new toxicology profiles for the new emergent contaminants,” said Ross.

The EPA is even looking at its national standard for PFAS, which is set at 70 parts per trillion (PPT).

“We are currently taking a look at the nationwide regulations in how to grapple with that nationwide and we will take a look at all science, including science the states are developing and policies the states are implementing, as we do our own regulations,” said Ross.

The research the EPA will consider includes Wisconsin’s research, which recently led to the state’s Department of Health Services announcement on Friday, setting the state’s PFAS standard at 20 parts per trillion (PPT).

“There are some still using bottle water,” said Representative John Nygren, (R) Marinette.

Nygren said he is a little frustrated with the EPA’s lack of quick action.

“You would like to think a bureaucracy could give you an answer today, but that’s not always the case. I have experienced that at a state level so i guess i am not overly surprised by federal government,” said Nygren.

Nygren is taking matters into his own hands with newly-proposed legislation that would limit the use of firefighting foam, with two exceptions: training where the DNR has approved a containment system and for fighting actual fires.

“If there is a dangerous fire, you don’t want to take away a tool if there isn’t one to replace it,” said Nygren.

However, Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) said his proposed bill is more comprehensive bill that focuses on remediation.

“Throughout the country, how many people have been exposed to PFAS? It doesn’t go away. It’s a man-made compound and it tends to accumulate in the body overtime, it doesn’t go away,” said Hansen.

As Wisconsin legislators make progress in Madison, the EPA will continue doing research.

“If the states are taking action as federal government studies this, as implement our action plan, is a good thing,” said Ross. “We need more science. That’s what we are tasking the scientists to help us out with now.”