MARINETTE — For residents in and around the PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) contamination plume that extends from the City of Marinette into the Town of Peshtigo and other outlying areas, many questions remain.

One question relates to the growing concerns among residents who continue to prompt municipal and state officials to pursue requests regarding the possibility of bringing a focused epidemiological study to the City of Marinette and surrounding communities. Those requests centers on examining PFAS blood levels and potential cancer clusters in the area. Some residents express concern that such cluster may involve links to PFAS exposure from the contamination that originated from facilities owned by Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) and its subsidiary Tyco Fire Products LP.

MAKING IT OFFICIAL

Addressing those concerns, Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot reached out in a formal written request for bipartisan support from both State Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, and State Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, in regards to PFAS-related health testing.

In an official letter, Genisot requested that the State of Wisconsin fund an earlier request made by Hansen that asked the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) to perform human blood testing for determination of PFAS levels in residents living within the contamination plume. Hansen’s initial request occurred in a letter he sent to the DHS Jan. 7.

Additionally, Genisot’s letter requested fiscal support for expanded field testing to create a potential pilot study in the Marinette-area that more closely examines the health and environmental concerns stemming form the emerging PFAS chemicals.

“We (City of Marinette and surrounding areas) are at the forefront of PFAS contamination in Wisconsin,” Genisot wrote. “Therefore it is imperative for the area to have some reassurance from Wisconsin and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. Our residents and community members are personally affected and need support for study and feedback on this emerging chemical.”

PFAS represents a class of thousands of man-made chemicals used for decades in industry and consumer products.  In the early 2000s, various studies showed probable links to several adverse and serious health issues. Additionally, due to their widespread use and ability to persist for decades in the environment, measurable levels of PFAS exist in approximately 98% of U.S. citizens.  

Hansen’s Jan. 7 letter to the DHS addressed similar concerns and requests. His letter also asked the DHS to conduct a cancer cluster assessment of residents and their children who may have been exposed to PFAS growing up in the Marinette and Peshtigo areas. 

“(Residents) in the Town of Peshtigo, City of Marinette and surrounding area are very concerned about their health in light of the PFAS contamination crisis caused by JCI/Tyco’s use of toxic compounds at their facilities …” Hansen wrote in his Jan. 7 letter. 

In a prior interview with the EagleHerald, Genisot proposed that short of a targeted blood and/or focused epidemiological study in the Marinette and surrounding area, he feels the productive benefits of at least gathering data and establishing a baseline are important. He pointed establishing such a baseline level of PFAS exposure (through blood testing) might reveal some of the answers to the questions many people continue to ask. 

 “We definitely have a known contamination issue (in the Marinette area),” Genisot said. “It would be nice to have somebody independent, like DHS or DNR (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources), to look not only at (residents) in the plume area … but also if our (PFAS) blood levels are higher or lower than the state or national average … to try and determine if there is an issue or not.”  

BIPARTISAN EFFORTS A MUST

Genisot also underscored the importance of continued cooperation with, and between, both Hansen and Nygren when it comes to emphasizing to the state that a city like Marinette needs outside assistance and funding to adequately address the PFAS issue.  

“I believe this is a bipartisan issue and few million dollars in funding, both from the state and federal levels, could go a long way to get ahead of this very important, long term and environmental problem,” he wrote in his letter to Nygren and Hansen. “We are at ground zero (for PFAS), with property owners desperately needing your support.”

According to statements provided to the EagleHerald by Nygren’s office, both Hansen and Nygren along with Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, have been working together “on additional legislation to reinforce the DNR’s ability to regulate PFAS chemicals and to provide additional funds to specifically study the issue of PFAS contamination.”

Furthermore, Genisot explained that any study performed in the area should acquisition an outside, independent and unbiased organization that operates under state or federal authority. He said that state and federal organizations represent the best entities capable of securing the funding as well as bringing a more unbiased and independent point of view, and working solely on behalf of the citizens.

“We know the (PFAS) issue is here,” he said. “And the rest of the state is going to be challenge with this issue in some capacity. But we have a known issue here. So we could start here (in Marinette).”