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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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State Task Force Gathers PFAS Info In Marinette

Issue Date: September 5, 2019

Because of high levels of PFOS and PFOAs found in ground and surface waters in areas of Marinette and the Town of Peshtigo and in sludge at Marinette and Peshtigo wastewater treatment plants, the Wisconsin Legislature's 16-member bipartisan Speaker's Task Force on Water Quality held one of its state-wide series of public hearings in Marinette on Thursday, Aug. 29.

The daylong hearing at the Herbert L. Williams Theater on the Marinette Campus of UW-Green Bay attracted a large number of local residents as well as numerous business representatives and local and state officials. Among legislators on hand in addition to members of the Task Force were Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay, Rep. John Nygren of Marinette and Rep. Jeff Mursau of Crivitz.

Formal presentations were made at the start of the hearing by Darsi Foss, DNR Division Administrator for Environmental Management; Roy Irving and Clara Jung of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and Karl Burton of the DNR. Foss said she is in charge of 650 emloyees in her division of the DNR, including Jim Zellner for whom she was also filling in. She noted Kyle Burton of the DNR was also on the panel presenting information to the legislators. Burton has been intimately involved here and has lived in this community.

Foss said the DNR and the legislature worked together through the years on many environmental issues, including acid rain and Brownfields, and managed to find solutions that protected both the environment and economic development.

Foss said there are 3,000 to 5,000 PFAS compounds, "a lot of alphabet soup," and it has been around a long time and has many industrial uses.

The specific types problematic here are found in products like stain and water repellent fabrics, non-stick products, polishes waxes, paints, cleaning products, chrome plating on vehicles, food packaging, fire fighting foams, and even dental floss.

The problems in Marinette appear to mainly stem from manufacture and testing of firefighting forms made by the Tyco Division of Johnson Controls, Inc. in Marinette.

Foss said somewhat like PCBS that previously were found to cause problems, PFAS tend to stick around and accumulate in the body over time. Studies show it may cause various health problems, and the biggest concern is with its accumulation in women of child bearing age where the health of infants and children are involved. It can target multiple organs.

Foss commented in this case the science of manufacturing has outpaced the science of environmental protection, and there is still much to be learned.

PFAS goes quickly through the soil and into the ground and surface waters and then tends to keep moving.

Others who had been invited to give testimony at the hearing include Steve Risotto, senior Director of Chemical Products and Technology for the American Chemistry Council; River Alliance of Wisconsin spokesmen Raj Shukla, executive director and David Trimmer of Miltrim Farms; Marinette County Conservationist Greg Cleereman, Oconto County Conservationist Ken Dolata; Scott Wahl and Jeff Danko of Johnson Controls; Michael Bedard of the consulting firm Arkadis, and Doug Oitzinger and Jeff Lamont of the local activist organization S.O. H20 (Stop Poisoning Our Waters).

After formal presentations ended the floor was opened to testimony from members of the public, and that testimony continued until nearly 6 p.m.

Though it has been a major concern locally for over a year, the overall PFOS/PFOA contamination issue is so new that standards have not yet been set by either the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources or the Federal EPA, and in fact the EPA has not even officially started its rule making process. Michigan is one of the few states that have established rules for the chemical compounds and the public has been told that Wisconsin DNR is somewhat following the lead of their Michigan counterparts.

The Task Force was formed in February of this year by Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in reaction to a preliminary report showing widespread contamination in private wells in southwestern Wisconsin, but there are contaminated sites scattered all over the state.

Because of the great importance of the issue being studied, this task force includes four members of the state Senate in addition to 12 members of the Assembly.

Rep. Todd Novak (R) of Dodgeville is Task Force Chair and Vice Chair is Rep. Katrina Shankland (D), Stevens Point. Other members are are Representatives Travis Tranel (R), Cuba City; Joel Kitchens (R), Sturgeon Bay; Scott Krug (R)Rome; Mary Felzkowski (R) Irma; Rob Summerfield (R) Bloomer; Timothy Ramthun (R) Campbellsport; Tony Kurtz (R) Wonewoc; Robert Brooks (R) Saukville; Sondy Pope (D) Mt. Horeb; Staush Gruszynski (D) Green Bay, and Senators Patrick Testin (R) Stevens Point; Robert Cowles (R) Green Bay; André Jacque (R) DePere, and Mark Miller (D) Monona.

Most of them were present for Thursday's hearing in Marinette, gathering information they will need. The task force has been asked to make recommendations on assessing and improving the quality of surface water and groundwater and have been holding public hearings around Wisconsin to gather information on the specific concerns in the various regions of the state.

Jung said PFAS does not tend to be drawn into plants grown in contaminated areas, and does not tend to enter the body through contact, but only by ingestion. Foss said the Marinette/Peshtigo area is just one of more than 20 known PFAS-contaminated sites in Wisconsin, but levels here are and described the fire fighting foam produced by Johnson Controls as a good product, but one that is found to have an impact on surface waters, ground waters, soils and sediments

The legislative panel was told that the major plume here is two miles south of the test site in Marinette and is heading toward the lake. PFAS-contaminated sludge from the Marinette and Peshtigo Wastewater Treatment Plants were spread on farm fields in the area.

Johnson Controls has taken samples from 168 private wells in the area, 58 tested positive for PFAS contamination, and 6 exceeded EPA recommended levels. The firm has installed treatment equipment at 37 of the contaminated wells.

The group was told that Gov. Tony Evers asked the task force to develop a public information web site and that has been done.

Foss said the new budget includes funding for two additional researchers, and they will be working on three rules in the new 35-step rule making process.

"We want to be sure we are working with citizens and businesses," she declared.

She said people have been suggesting they wait for the EPA rules, but said that could be five to 10 years in the future.

Meanwhile, the DNR plans to submit a rule request to the Natural Resources Board in October.

Novak was told they are correct in saying there is still a lot unknown about the entire PFAS issue. He also was told the DHS is confident that there is enough information to convince them that the health concerns are valid.

The panel was told that many people do not understand the food part of the PFAS contamination issue. Shankland asked if everyone should get rid of their non-stick cookware, and was told that whenever they see a scratch they should quit using it. Alsi, there are concerns that at high temperatures the non-stick surface - which contains PFAS - can start to burn and release the compound into the air.

Shankland suggested perhaps there should be a bullet-point informational site for the public on best practices. She understands that Wisconsin standards for groundwater are among the best in the nation, and Foss agreed, but an important part of that is that the DNR tries to prevent groundwater contamination in the first place. She said they also try to seek out cures that do not shut down businesses.

Ranthum asked why we do not simply ban PFAS. His question drew applause from the audience, but got no real answer. In other parts of the discussion, questions were asked as to whether or not the public would be willing to give up grease-resistant pizza boxes for example. Manufacture of PFAS is now banned in this country, but products containing it are still being legally imported.

Scott Wahl, Senior Program Manager of Tyco - Johnson Control Inc (JCI) and Michael Bedard, Arcadis Vice President spoke on behalf of Tyco - JCI. Wahl stressed their highest priority is supplying a quality water system to the Town of Peshtigo. He said, "We are diligently working on trying to get a good solution and understanding of what water line option we are going to go with. We want to have this completed by the end of 2020".

Wahl added, "We are working with the DNR , the DHS and local officials and residents. We want to make sure we are collaborating with the DNR, DHS and residents."

On behalf of the Arcadis Environmental and Engineering group Bedard declared, "Tyco has done a lot of work and there is a lot to be done. There was a lot of activity that has been done including 171 wells sampled to date, 2,200 drinking water samples have been taken, over 110 meetings were held including informational groups, large groups and small groups; 2,700 phone calls to residents and 3,500 letters to Common Councils".

He added, "We investigate, gather data, analyze, assess and take action. Wells are being sampled on a quarterly basis and over a course of time 16 wells were tested showing 70 parts per trillion (PPT), 42 wells had detection but were below the Health Advisory Limit (HAL) and 110 were tested but were no detect or very minimal PPT. Residents were offered bottled water and also in home Poet systems (Point of Entry Water Treatment Systems)".

Bedard explained to the legislative panel that, "Ditch A is at the Tyco training center where the contamination originated. It flows offsite and pumps water from the ditch." He said 18 million gallons of water has been treated since Fall of 2018, and Ditch B will be completed by the end of 2019.

"Concurrent activities for 2019 will include: review what has been done, municipal water hookup for Town of Peshtigo, engagement with all involved, design work, access work and investigation work including, fish sampling, more soil sampling, ongoing remedial action and private well sampling", Bedard added.

"We want to bring a permanent drinking water solution to the Town of Peshtigo," Wahl concluded. "We promised a deadline of 2020 for water supply lines and we are asking for your support to move forward".

Questioning Wahl and Bedard, Shankland asked, "In terms of the community water supply, is Tyco - JCI absorbing all of the cost of that? What are you doing for foam?"

Wahl said they we are absorbing the whole cost and in response to the foam question, he said they have ceased all discharge of foam in Marinette.

Shankland also questioned, "What other remediation are you working on and what kind of remediation?"

Bedard replied, "The remediation plan is for fixing the problem with first being drinking water, we want to solve that first. The strategy is hooking up to a municipal water system. For short term, there has been change in practices at the campus. Secondly, Ditch A Treatment System drains most of the site that caused the fair amount of the problem. What remains for long term solution is soil testing on site and determine if we need to treat the soils and looking at what makes the most sense as well as how quickly we can get this done."

Gruszynski had further questions for the Tyco - JCI team. "When did you see signs of contamination, I see from 2017. At what point did you realize the issue"?

Bedard replied, "In 2016 the DNR asked Tyco to test for PFAS on site. As data was collected, it indicated contaminants were going off site and Tyco started looking into Ditch A. When those results came in, that's when we picked the pace up in 2017. They then embarked to responsibly figure this out".

"It is about being a good neighbor," Gruszynski declared. He said they knew about contamination on site in 2013".

Bedard replied, "2013 was different than 2017, 18 and 19. Regulations were different. There was less understanding about this in 2013".

"Go back to 2013," Gruszynski insisted. "You didn't believe it was a public health threat?"

"As soon as we knew it migrated off site, we took action," Bedard responded.

Next up was former Marinette Mayor Doug Oitzinger of the SOH20 water group, and Jeff Lamont, one of the founders of the Town of Peshtigo Advisory Committee. LaMont has 28 years experience as a Senior Program Manager Hydrogeologist.

Oitzinger pointed out that PFAS are called "the forever chemicals" because they don't break down in environment or your body and stay in your system. He said health concerns include affecting growth as well as learning and behavioral issues of infants and older children."We need legislation to make insurance companies cover PFAS testing" Oitzinger declared.

He added, "One half block from the community garden there was water with high concentrations of PFAS that migrated into Ditch B which is 100 steps form this UWGB Theatre. It tested at 3,000 PPT of PFOA and 140 PPT of PFOS. A well in the area tested at 75,000 PFOA and 13 PFOS".

"This sludge from the test site was being spread on agricultural fields but is now being held at the treatment plant per request of the DNR," Oitzinger said. "For over 20 years this was being flushed down the sewer system and spread on fields." He said to his knowledge there has not yet been any tests done of fields or private wells on the land that this (wastewater treatment plant sludge) was being dumped on."

Oitzinger continued, "After 18 months of studying, the DHS has finally come out with a regulated number of 20 parts per trillion (PPT) which is a big difference from the 70 PPT which was originally set. We need regulations and are asking for Bipartisan support of ABA23 and ban the use of firefighting foam containing the PFAS as well as proper containment regulations. We are looking for the Democrats to vote for Mr. Nygren's bill and for Republicans to vote for Mr Miller's bill. Just as a note, there are 5.8 million stakeholders in Wisconsin on the issues of water quality."

"Evidently Tyco - JCI set aside $140 million to deal with this water issue," Lamont said, and added that he is not sure that is going to be enough. "I would like to see an Epidemiology study in our area to give an idea of the magnitude of this problem which can easily be done. We need to do as much as possible." He added appreciation for legislative support for the two bills Mr. Oitzinger had mentioned.

The meeting then led into public comment from concerned citizens, but most of those comments were about Aquila Resources controversial Back 40 Mine on the Menominee River in Menominee County, Mich.

Scott Lindquist, a resident member of the Coalition To Save The Menominee River said, "I hear a lot bout PFAS issues, but would like to tell you about something that is equally as dangerous in the long run. In the 60's local companies and factories were dumping paint and solvent in the dump on the edge of the wetlands. Waters got contaminated!

"Dredging of the Menominee River and removal of lead and cleanup took over two years at a cost of $66 million and now we have Aquila Resources that wants to put a mine 750 feet deep, and 150 feet from the bank of the Menominee River."

Lindquist continued, "If Tyco knew what they know now, if they could go back with knowing what they know now and spending as much as they will be now would they have done things differently? I am sure they would have.

In regard to the mine, he declared, "This mine creates sulfuric acid. It's not a matter of will they have an accident, it's when will the accident happen. We have been fighting this fight to stop the mine from here all the way to Brown County and Door County. We cannot afford another calamity. Once the acid mine begins, there is no way to stop!"

He ended by telling the task force: "We need help doing this from people in power. Our fight is falling on deaf ears. Please step up and give us a hand. This is a boundary water and it impacts you as much as all of us. This is preventable. The Tyco (problem) was not intentional. We need your help."

Shawn McKinney spoke on behalf of the anti-mine coalition group. "The cost benefit analysis versus the risk benefit tells the story. We are almost guaranteed that this mine will permanently change and ruin our rivers."

Rick Prusack, a resident of Dearborn, Mi. who is transitioning to this area commented, " A few decades ago Ford Motor Company made a statement, 'Quality is job number one'. In April 2014, in Flint, Mi., many people made a vow that nothing like this will happen again, that vow was broken with Tyco and then quietly Aquila Resources came sneaking around the corner. They would be using 1.2 billion pounds of cyanide. One pound of cyanide will kill 1,244 people. In 16 years it could kill more people and (destroy more) natural habitat than Hitler did. (He used cyanide). It took over 20 years and millions of dollars to make the Menominee River drinkable and great again. Let's upgrade the statement that quality is job number one, to water quality is job number one!"

Mary Hansen, another member of the Coalition to Save the Mine added, "This mine has a 100% failure route. Every one of these mines contaminated the land and water where they were done. Are you going to be re-active or proactive"?

Another Coalition member stated, "Nature doesn't need humans, humans need nature. Aquila and some legislators are trying to push this on us. Even as we are all saying, 'NO' they are sneaking things through. The only way we can do this is with help from everyone. We all need to do this together to stop the mine. I would rather die from exhaustion in fighting this than fight this disaster. I encourage you to do whatever you can do in your position to please protect our waters!"

Andi Rich commented, "I have done a lot of research. This mine will cost the tax payers millions of dollars. Aquila won't pull enough money out of the ground to pay for the damage done to the river. I encourage you do do everything you can and do whatever can be done to change the laws that are not working for us at present."

"Our economy was built on businesses that needed pure water," Kayla Burton declared. "We share that with Upper Michigan. This should be a part of your responsibility of looking at future generations and take a stand of where your priorities are."

"We have been told Wisconsin has been on the sidelines because Michigan has been in charge of the permit process," Jody Korch commented, but then added, ""Wisconsin regulates the fishing. It is not too late to stop a catastrophe. I urge you to step up and help us".

Area resident Jeffrey Budish asked in regards to PFAS contamination: "How are we stopping the contaminations of bio-solids? Why doesn't the State of Wisconsin ban PFAS contaminants from our state? We need legislation to stop this now, not two or three years from now. We are still allowing our people to eat the deer, hunt and consume the meat from these deer that are drinking from the contaminated ditches. How can you allow that to happen? We have to protect what we have!" He said letters of opposition were sent to Michigan by governors of Ohio, New York and Indiana, and asked , "Where is the letter from Wisconsin? Why can't the State of Wisconsin show more opposition?"

"Political figures are doing nothing! Step up to the plate and give us some help!" he challenged.

Corey Kuchta said, "My one issue of concern is, many farms in our area had sludge spread on the fields. Did we do good by spreading this on the fields to dilute or should we be concerned about it?"

That issue appears to remain something of a question, but the DHS spokesmen said only small amounts of PFAS appear to be absorbed by plants in fields and gardens where sludge or contaminated water are used. Rather, the PFAS seem to get back into the ground or surface waters and continue on their apparently endless journey. PFAS are absorbed into the protein or muscle portion of meats and fish, however.


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