EagleHerald/John Liesveld
Large bags of granular activated carbon during an October change out of the GAC filtering system located on Ditch A near University Drive. Periodically, the GAC inside the filtering systems reaches its absorbance capacity and needs to be refreshed. Spent GAC can be recycled and used again through a specialized process of heating that eliminates contaminants absorbed by the GAC. 
EagleHerald/John Liesveld

Large bags of granular activated carbon during an October change out of the GAC filtering system located on Ditch A near University Drive. Periodically, the GAC inside the filtering systems reaches its absorbance capacity and needs to be refreshed. Spent GAC can be recycled and used again through a specialized process of heating that eliminates contaminants absorbed by the GAC. 

MARINETTE — The science and the discussions of (PFAS Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances) in the community involve highly complex and highly technical explanations and processes. PFAS represent a group of over 4,000 compounds shown to possess probable links to various health-related issues like certain cancers. The chemicals are present in various industrial and consumer goods and processes. The City of Marinette and Town of Peshtigo first became aware of widespread PFAS contamination in 2017 when Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) and its subsidiary, Tyco Fire Products LP, first informed the residents in both municipalities of detected levels of PFAS in the environment surrounding the Tyco Fire Technology Center (FTC).    

At Wednesdays PFAS Information Session, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) presented information on a semi-annual report regarding the granular activated filtering (GAC) system built on a stream known as Ditch A. The report was submitted Dec. 31 by Arcadis, a design and consultancy firm contracted by JCI/Tyco.  Arcadis provides environmental testing and advising for the PFAS cleanup occurring throughout the region. 

Ditch A runs through the property of Tyco’s Fire Technology Center and then heads south of Marinette, serving as a tributary to the Little River. A similar stream and GAC system, known as Ditch B, also runs past the property of the FTC. Both systems serve as interim treatment methods to remove PFAS contamination that originated at the FTC after years of testing PFAS firefighting foams.

An article in the Jan. 14 edition of the EagleHerald reported on that same Ditch A semiannual report.

Following the Jan 14 article officials with JCI/Tyco and a principal engineer with Arcadis, provided information for clarification on some of the results contained within that report. 

TYCO’S PFAS WASTE DISPOSAL

Prior to March of 2019, Tyco maintained a permit authorizing discharge of foam waste into the City of Marinette’s wastewater treatment system. However, in March, the company voluntarily ceased that discharge. 

According to Mike Bedard, Arcadis principal engineer, the company currently collects its foam-containing wastewater in special storage tanks onsite at the FTC facility. Ultimately, that waste is shipped for proper disposal to a deep well injection facility in the State of Ohio. Bedard and Frasier Engerman, JCI Director, Global Media Relations, further emphasized that Tyco does not currently, nor has it ever, discharged waste into Ditch A or Ditch B.

Bedard explained that the filtering systems on those ditches serves to cleanse the water of PFAS that likely leaches into Ditche A and Ditch B through the groundwater tables of the land through which the streams travel. Additionally, PFAS enters those streams from surface water sources such as storm water runoff from the city. 

FLUCTUATING PFAS CONCENTRATION IN DYNAMIC ENVIRONMENT

Also important to understand, and pointed out by Bedard, the concentration ranges of PFOA and PFOS reported in the Ditch A semiannual report continue to fluctuate within the range that Tyco has reported “all along” to the WDNR. Arcadis documentation backs that up.  According to data, the ranges of PFAS contamination levels in Ditch A  2018 samples, reveal values that are on par to 2019 Ditch A levels—prior to filtration by the GAC systems. In other words, PFAS levels in Ditch A have not worsened.  

Those reports can be found on the WDNR’s Bureau for Remediation and Redevelopment Tracking System (BRRTS) on the Web.

BRRT records from Jan. 2018, provide confirmation. They show a map of the Marinette area that pinpoints many PFAS sampling locations, and records the PFOA and PFOS levels measured in those samples. In summary, the document shows levels and ranges of PFAS from Jan. 2018 to be consistent to the levels and ranges reported in the Ditch A semi-annual report.

According to Bedard and BRRT documents, in some cases, the 2018 samples show that the high-end levels of PFAS contamination were actually higher for both PFOA and PFOS than the most recent samples recorded in the December 2019 report. Additionally, the low end of those ranges for both PFOA and PFOS were lower in 2018 than the in the 2019 report. 

To illustrate, Bedard pointed out the 2018 range of Ditch A PFOA levels—from samples collected at various locations in the ditch—started at a 15ppt and reached a high of 2,760 ppt. For PFOS the low-end sample started at 70.4 ppt and reached 1,860 ppt. 

“The range of PFAS levels in the (December semi-annual report) is within the range of what is expected,” Bedard said. 

He stressed that when dealing with an outdoor environmental system, many uncontrollable variables come into play that can affect the measured levels of PFAS in collected samples, which in turn, affect the ranges of those values. For example, the change of seasons from wintertime through fall will cause fluctuations in levels of PFAS measured.   

“You would expect values, at any given point in time, (to) change,” Bedard said. “Snow melt and storm water runoff, sometimes (these) actually increase the concentration … and sometimes they decrease (the concentration). You would expect a natural system to be all over the map.” 

Bedard further emphasized and echoed vital point made in Tuesday’s EagleHerald article that stated both GAC filtering systems on Ditch A and B are functioning according to the provision and regulations specified in the system permits. The GAC systems are removing over 99 percent of the PFAS from ‘pre-filtered’ water to ‘post-filtered’ water. 

“It is really important that you comply with those permit limits, and (it is also important) that the system you put in place does what you said it would do,” Bedard said. “And that is exactly what we have here.”

Since the site investigations began in 2017, he explained that the system of collecting PFAS data has evolved to improve efficiency, accuracy and precision. Currently, the frequency of data collection has increased significantly, which provides a better interpretation for tracking variation in the dynamic and natural system of an outdoor setting. 

TRANSPARENCY OF REPORTS

Finally, according to JCI/Tyco and Arcadis, communication and transparency with the WDNR remains continuous as the cleanup process continues. Arcadis submits monthly discharge monitoring reports as well as semi-annual reports on the operations to the WDNR, the data and the effectiveness of both Ditch A and B. 

The first semi-annual report for Ditch A was submitted Dec. 31. As the first report, several determinations needed to be made, concerning the format and guidelines for creating and submitting such reports.  

According to Engerman, JCI/Tyco and Arcadis convened regularly with WDNR officials to address those parameters and establish the process of writing and submitting the reports. 

“We worked with DNR officials to determine the appropriate form and content of that report; and we had shared data with them before and during the Ditch A treatment system operation … we meet with (the DNR) monthly and weekly; and we have provided them updates on the operation continuously.”

“We are trying to be as transparent as possible,” Frasier said. “You have all kinds of variables … there are just a lot of factors here that are going to impact the data.” 

With submission of the Dec. 31 (the first) semiannual report for Ditch A, Bedard expects the next report to move through the process much faster, anticipating a submittal in February, of 2020.