MARINETTE — The Marinette City Council received an update on the status of biosolids contaminated with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and heard one concerned citizen’s related comments at its Tuesday evening meeting. 

Prior to the update and the rest of the meeting, Andi Rich, 1403 Logan Ave., gave the council public comment regarding her concerns about PFAS-contaminated waterways in the city, particularly a ditch which runs along James Street, through Northland Lutheran Retirement Community at 831 Pine Beach Road, past the UWGB-Marinette campus and out to the Bay of Green Bay through Runnoe Park. The ditch, referred to as “Ditch B” by Tyco Fire Protection Products/Johnson Controls, was one of the surface water ditches in the area contaminated with PFAS, a component of the company’s firefighting foams and sprays. Tyco and its parent company Johnson Controls have been conducting an environmental assessment of their facilities and the surrounding areas in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regarding the contamination.

Rich claimed she had seen a group of Marinette High School students approximately three weeks ago picking up garbage along Ditch B, and two small children playing in the ditch on Monday. 

“I am beside myself with the lack of action of this council that directly results in continued danger to this community,” Rich said. She pointed out that Wisconsin state statute NR 714.07 (4) requires signage to be posted outside contaminated sites, which the city has yet to do around the ditch. “By sitting idly by, you are directly contributing to untold numbers of little kids being further exposed to PFAS.” 

Rich added that she would like to see an action plan to put up snow fences along the sides of the ditch and signage, a budget proposal for “immediate notification” about the issue in media sources, and plans to bill the DNR for the expenses involved. 

Finally, Rich said she was stopped last week by a Marinette police officer for putting flyers on the cars of anglers attending the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour tournament to warn them of the PFAS contamination. 

“I was told I’m not allowed to pass out information on car windshields,” she said, and repeated phone calls to City Hall eventually told her she was violating Marinette municipal code 09.0901, which pertains to business licenses. “I am not a business, so when I reviewed the ordinances, I knew of none that I was breaking when I went out to try to flyer these cars.” 

Council members did not respond to Rich’s comments, but they did hear from Water & Sewer Operations Manager Warren Howard when he gave an update on the city’s contaminated biosolids. Upon request from the DNR, the city has been storing 2 to 2.5 million gallons of PFAS-contaminated biosolids, or sludge, in a holding tank at the wastewater treatment plant, and has been exploring ways to dispose of it. Howard explained that the city has been working with Tyco to determine where the PFAS comes to rest when the biosolids are dried out and thickened, and testing so far has revealed that a majority of the PFAS remains in the solids, though some can be found in the liquid filtrate. 

“We shipped out those samples to a lab that then is going to determine how low we got the PFAS in the filtrate,” he said. “We want to get as much of it in the biosolids as we can, because that’s going to be incinerated, but we’re still going to have filtrate that’s going to be put through the wastewater treatment plant, as part of the process.” 

Howard said Tyco would be providing the wastewater treatment plant with a filtration system to run the liquid filtrate through to remove the rest of the PFAS. 

“Our goal is to have everything in place, once they get the numbers that we sent out for... to know what kind of system they need to put in,” he said. “Our goal, then, is to start, hopefully by the end of July, and it’s going to take about a month to do this process.” 

Howard added that Tyco and ChemDesign are currently working to replace the linings in their wastewater lines to stop PFAS from coming into the wastewater treatment plant. Neither company is discharging PFAS anymore, he said, but there could still be residual chemicals inside the lines. 

Ward 8 Alderman Jason Flatt asked if Tyco would be covering the additional expenses the city is incurring, for filtration and incineration. Howard said the company was committed to doing so. 

Regarding municipal water supply, Howard said the city would be sampling to test for PFAS again in July, and would continue to do so quarterly. Mayor Steve Genisot added that the city was still committed to holding a public information meeting with both Tyco and the DNR in attendance to answer questions, which will likely occur sometime in the next two weeks. Those with questions for the city, Tyco or the DNR may submit them prior to the meeting at PFAS@marinette.wi.us or PFASquestions@marinette.wi.us. 

The City Council also: 

¦ Honored former Ward 4 Alderman Brian Walters with a service award for his term on the council seat, which he vacated this spring. 

¦ Heard an update from Marinette Fire Chief Jay Heckel regarding the fire department’s goal to purchase a new rescue air boat for the city. Heckel said he was contacted by Tyco representatives who were interested in assisting in the fundraising, and the company issued a corporate challenge to local businesses and industries to pledge $5,000 or more to the project during the month of June. Pledging businesses will receive a spot in a September Tyco fire school training course. After the two September fire school courses, Tyco also agreed to pledge whatever proceeds it raises from the courses to the purchase of the air boat, with a minimum of $10,000. 

“We’re kind of excited about this,” Heckel said. “We’ve been trying to come up with creative ways to raise funding for the project, and we’re hoping that this is one of them.” 

A refurbished air boat will cost approximately $155,000, he said. The department’s current air boat is reaching the end of its functional life.