EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

JCI Vice President – Environment, Health and Safety John Perkins attends the DNR PFAS listening sessions Wednesday where area residents took full advantage of voicing their concerns and stories regarding the PFAS contamination in the Marinette area. JCI and Tyco represent two of the responsible parties in Marinette identified by the DNR as releasing hazardous substances (aka PFAS) into the environment. ChemDesign is the third.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
JCI Vice President – Environment, Health and Safety John Perkins attends the DNR PFAS listening sessions Wednesday where area residents took full advantage of voicing their concerns and stories regarding the PFAS contamination in the Marinette area. JCI and Tyco represent two of the responsible parties in Marinette identified by the DNR as releasing hazardous substances (aka PFAS) into the environment. ChemDesign is the third.

EDITORS NOTE: This is the second story in a series that started with yesterday’s report on the DNR PFAS listening session in the City of Marinette that was attended by Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul.

MARINETTE — Wednesday’s Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) PFAS listening session not only created a unique opportunity for City of Marinette and surrounding area residents to express concerns, ask question and share stories with the State of Wisconsin Department of Justice. It also allowed Johnson Control Inc. (JCI) and its subsidiary company Tyco Fire Products LP, a chance to hear how those concerns and stories affected individuals living in the PFAS plume of contamination.

PFAS or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances represent  a family of over 4,000 man-made chemicals used in a variety of industry in products since the 1940s such as firefighting foams, paper, nonstick cookware and others. PFAS are persistent in the environment and in the human body and accumulate over time. Additionally strong evidence points to PFAS exposure as potentially causing adverse human health effects.

“Today is our opportunity to hear firsthand from the public,” said JCI Vice President – Environment, Health and Safety John Perkins during an interview at Tyco’s fire training center (FTC) just prior to the first of two DNR sessions at Marinette’s Community REC Center Wednesday. “That is really our role here today: to ensure that we hear firsthand from the public.” 

Perkins added, it served as a way for JCI/Tyco to answer questions and receive feedback from individuals living within areas feeling impacts of PFAS contamination that resulted from seepage of the chemicals from FTC properties. 

“Quite frankly, we do believe that there has been a lot of misinformation recently in the media,” he said. “Especially with respect to what we are doing across the board.” 

Perkins statement referred to JCI/Tyco efforts endeavoring to address the contamination zones since they first notified the City of Marinette and other surrounding the contamination in 2017. Those actions are spelled out on the tycomarinette.com website and summarized in this story (See sidebar: Summary of JCI/Tyco efforts).

Perkins underscored work to refurbish the FTC and Stanton Street Tyco campuses’ sanitary sewer lines at the cost of roughly $1 million. He added that those efforts ran parallel to further cooperation with stakeholders in the community focused on designing and installing a future municipal waterline, primarily serving those in the Town of Peshtigo’s affected areas. He characterized discussions surrounding those efforts as very productive in moving towards the ultimate goal:

“A final conclusion which is providing municipal waterline from the city of Marinette to the affected residents in the study area,” he said.  

According to Perkins, the current progress of the municipal water line project remains in active negotiations with the City of Marinette and the Town of Peshtigo. 

“We stand behind this as our commitment within the community that our single biggest priority is to ensure that there is clean, safe and reliable drinking water to all those that are affected within the study area,” Perkins said. “That is the only reliable long term solution (for) residents that are affected.”

DESPITE REMEDIATION EFFORTS, ANGER STILL RESONATES

Wisconsin State Attorney General Josh Kaul, who attended the PFAS listening session Wednesday said that the WDNR has referred JCI/Tyco to the Department of Justice. He explained to the EagleHerald what such a referral implies.

The WDNR and the DOJ play different roles when it comes to environmental actions. Most of the time, the WDNR serves as the primary agency in the state overseeing those actions. If violations exist, Kaul said that in most cases, the WDNR handles them directly through their processes. 

However, some cases are referred to the DOJ for review. Kaul explained such referred cases are “typically the most significant cases where there is either very significant environmental harm or it is a case where the DNR has tried, but is unable, to get a company they believe has violated environmental laws to come into compliance with those laws.”

For Marinette resident and former city mayor Dough Oitzinger, that referral serves to spur some anger he holds for JCI/Tyco.  

“Like most people I started out thinking that JCI didn’t realize this was happening; and when they found out they were going to try and do the right thing,” Oitzinger said. “I don’t feel that way anymore. I feel that they knew darn well what was happening, and they did not disclose it. I do not think they are trying to do the right thing. I think they are trying to limit their liability. And that makes me angry.”

THE  QUESTION OF REPORTING 

In 2013, Arcadis, a company contracted by Tyco to perform environmental sampling and testing of various hazardous materials on their facilities, measured PFAS contamination at the center of Tyco’s 380-acre FTC facility. 

“We had no knowledge that it had moved off (the) property in 2013,” said JCI Director, Global Media Relations Fraser Engerman. “It was confined. And we believed at the time we did not have a reporting obligation to the WDNR.” 

However, and according to the WDNR Director of Environmental Management Division Darsi Foss, who cited Wisconsin statute 292.11 for hazardous substance spills – more colloquially known as the “Spill Law”– those 2013 measurements should have been reported.

In short, the Spill Law states, “a person who possesses or controls a hazardous substance or who causes the discharge of a hazardous substance shall notify the DNR immediately of any discharge.” 

“If you discharge a hazardous waste on your property or anybody else’s property you are required to report it by law,” Foss said. 

Certain exemptions to the law apply to entities such as fire departments who may need to use firefighting foams in cases of emergency.  

According to Foss, the Spill Law has been in effect since the 1970s and Tyco should have filed a report to the DNR in 2013 immediately after they discovered PFAS contamination on their property.

“The (2013 spill) in our minds eye was a discharge of a hazardous substance,” Foss said.

She further pointed out that those initial 2013 PFAS measurements were not revealed to the WDNR until 2016. 

Tyco documentation supported that fact, stating that in 2016, “further testing revealed the presence of these compounds near our property boundary, and we notified the WDNR of both of these results and the testing from 2013.”  

“Back in 2013 we had zero information or knowledge of any indication that there was any contamination of PFAS offsite,” Perkins further emphasized. “In 2016 we worked with the DNR to discuss offsite investigations of our fire field.”

Perkins also added that, not until 2017 did JCI/Tyco realize the impact to local drinking water wells or surrounding areas. He pointed out they began providing bottled water affected area residents even before they started taking offsite PFAS measurements in 2017.  

For Oitzinger, the efforts made to date by JCI/Tyco still fall short. As a former Marinette mayor, much of the compassion and sentiment he feels towards the city’s residents remains, as do his concerns for the Marinette’s neighbors in the Town of Peshtigo.

“This problem is not going away and anyone who is 40 years or older is not going to live long enough to see the end of this issue,” Oitzinger said, referring to the fact that PFAS compounds are ubiquitous throughout the environment and industry, and compounded by the fact the chemicals are also bio-persistent.