EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Darsi Foss, Wisconsin DNR Division Administrator of Environmental Management, speaks to the crowd about PFAS contamination Wednesday at the Community REC Center. 
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Darsi Foss, Wisconsin DNR Division Administrator of Environmental Management, speaks to the crowd about PFAS contamination Wednesday at the Community REC Center. 

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MARINETTE — The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) held a highly-anticipated, well-attended public information meeting on ongoing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) water contamination in the local area at the Community REC Center, 2501 Pierce Ave., on Wednesday evening, in conjunction with the Department of Health Services (DHS), the City of Marinette and local fire suppression systems manufacturer Tyco Fire Protection Products/Johnson Controls.

The emerging contaminant family of compounds known as PFAS is a group of substances that can be found in common household products such as stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products and firefighting foams, but can have detrimental health affects for those who consume it. PFAS in the Marinette County area originates from Johnson Controls-owned Tyco, through chemical testing and training at their local testing site in Marinette, and has contaminated a number of private wells in the Town of Peshtigo area, biosolids from the cities of Marinette and Peshtigo, fields which had the biosolids spread on them and local groundwater and surface water to the southeast of the facility and a few other locations.

REGULATIONS

The DNR and the DHS are moving forward with plans to instate a set of state regulations for two types of PFAS in groundwater, with the DHS recommending a cumulative limit of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) in groundwater of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) combined. The suggested limit is much lower than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) health advisory level of 70 ppt, though the EPA is expected to examine and potentially set its own regulations following the release of a PFAS action plan in February. The DNR plans to set its rules this fall, and has forwarded 34 more PFAS compounds to the DHS for review and regulation recommendation. 

BIOSOLIDS

The cities of Marinette and Peshtigo have both ceased spreading their wastewater sludge, known as biosolids, on local agricultural fields at the request of the DNR following the discovery that PFAS was accumulating in the biosolids after being flushed into the wastewater systems by Tyco. A hold on the municipalities’ biosolids was issued, and both cities are working with Tyco to remove and dispose of the held, contaminated biosolids via landfill or incineration. Tyco has also reportedly ceased sending PFAS down the drain. However, according to Jason Knutson with the DNR Division of Environmental Management’s wastewater program, the DNR issued a responsible party letter on July 3 to Johnson Controls asking them “to expand their evaluation of their contamination to include these fields that received biosolids over the last few years from Marinette.” The site investigation work plan for the fields is due Sept. 3. 

JOHNSON CONTROLS

Johnson Controls questioned the DNR’s request for the company to begin investigating PFAS-affected fields on Wednesday, prior to the meeting. In a letter from the company’s Environmental Remediation department, Johnson Controls asked the DNR whether any other companies had been issued responsible party letters and whether any other entities may have spread biosolids on the fields. The letter also pointed to the fact that lines from five wastewater zones had tested positive for PFAS contamination in Marinette, but Tyco only has access to three of the five. 

John Perkins, vice president of environmental health & safety, said Wednesday that the company planned to respond within the set time frame, but the question of whether other entities may have been involved in the PFAS contamination was important to Johnson Controls’ investigation. 

“Other industrial companies also discharge their wastewater into the city’s facility,” he said in a statement. “The biosolids referenced in (the) DNR’s letters therefore come from a variety of sources, and we have no involvement in the city’s production or distribution of them. We intend to continue to address issues cooperatively with the DNR and we look forward to future discussions.” 

Regarding the connection of properties with affected wells to Marinette’s municipal water, Perkins said Johnson Controls still believes this is the best option for residents to receive safe, clean, sustainable drinking water as soon as possible, and is still committed to the costs involved. However, he did admit that the company’s goal to install a water line by 2020, which was announced in March, appears to be in jeopardy. 

“Since our March meeting we have, unfortunately, met some resistance in the township of Peshtigo — specifically, one township official,” he said, referring to town chairman Herman Pottratz. “That official has asked us to look at the City of Peshtigo as a source of drinking water. So now we are performing a review of that, which is going to take additional time and resources, to look at that area at this individual’s request.” 

Perkins added that the 2020 deadline may be pushed back to 2021 unless Johnson Controls receives approval from regulatory agencies and the municipalities involved. He did concede that the Town of Peshtigo residents and representatives may be hesitant to move forward with a municipal water line due to the City of Marinette’s current ordinance that requires properties be annexed into the city before water lines can be installed, but added that the company believes the project “can be completed without annexation.” 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

The DNR announced Wednesday that it had put up a dedicated page on its website for the PFAS contamination in the Marinette area, which can be found through the search tool on its main page. The section will include answers to frequently asked questions, links to information about PFAS and the ongoing investigation and access to the presentation slides from Wednesday’s meeting.

In addition to the website, the DNR plans to hold monthly listening sessions in the area over the next six months to hear residents’ concerns, for which the times, dates and locations will be posted on the site. A separate meeting is being planned for September to discuss the Town of Peshtigo’s options for long-term clean water supply. A date and time for the September meeting have not yet been set. 

Approximately 300 area residents attended the meeting, with more than 20 people asking questions after the presentation.