EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul speaks at the DNR PFAS listening session Wednesday at the Community REC Center. The plume of PFAS runs through Marinette High School by way of a stream and through the Community REC Center property.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul speaks at the DNR PFAS listening session Wednesday at the Community REC Center. The plume of PFAS runs through Marinette High School by way of a stream and through the Community REC Center property.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: A followup story in tomorrow’s paper will cover an interview with JCI/Tyco official just prior to the Wednesday PFAS listening sessions. 

MARINETTE — In the world of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance) issues and health concerns, and for those living in the Marinette area who carry stakes in the outcomes of those issues  and experience the health impacts, that many people feel are related to PFAS chemical, one might consign a noteworthy stamp to Dec.18, 2019.  

On that day – Wednesday – at the City of Marinette Community REC Center, hundreds of Marinette-area residents seized full advantage of a unique opportunity to share their PFAS frustrations and stories with the State of Wisconsin Department of Justice.

The fourth Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) PFAS information session to occur at the REC Center commenced at noon on Wednesday with State Attorney General Josh Kaul in attendance to hear those stories. The sessions enable the WDNR to continue its efforts to provide open and ongoing communication through monthly, in-person forums, allowing residents to meet with DNR and other state agency staff, and to ask questions and stay informed on the complex topics related to PFAS.

During the two PFAS information sessions held Wednesday, Kaul, WDNR officials and various local leaders listened over the course of several hours as concerned residents lined up to speak at the microphone, voicing their accounts and concerns regarding the impacts PFAS inflicted on their lives. Several of those accounts emerged on words wavering with frustration and accompanied by tears. Additionally, many expressed anger aimed at the entities labeled as the “responsible parties” by the WDNR for PFAS contamination in and around the City of Marinette, namely Johnson Controls Inc. and its subsidiary company Tyco Fire Products LP (see sidebar for history background)

“I wanted to be here to personally hear from people,” Kaul told the EagleHerald. “Because this is an issue that we take very seriously at the Department of Justice. And I know it is an issue that has an enormous impact on the Marinette and Peshtigo communities. I really appreciate so many people coming out to talk to us about what that impact has been and what they hope to see (done).”

For many, those impacts represent a considerable toll at an individual level and in the broader scope of the entire community. 

“If you want to know what the effects are on myself and my family, they are catastrophic,” said Marinette resident Pam Goes, summing up the sentiments of several others who spoke at the microphone. “That is the only word I can think to describe it. Physically. Emotionally. Financially catastrophic.”

Since the early 2000s, “PFAS,” as an acronym, has come to represent the epitome of chemical toxicity across the country. PFAS represents a family of over 4,000 chemicals. 

One of the largest epidemiological studies ever conducted, known as the C8 Science Panel, revealed evidence showing strong links between PFAS exposure and adverse environmental and human health impacts. The study occurred as a direct result of environmental contamination inflicted on the community of Parkersburg, West Virginia, after the E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. knowingly released thousands of tons of PFAS into a landfill that resulted in the subsequent contamination of outlying communities.  

“We realize now how serious this problem is for air, land and water and a lot of people are getting sick who may not want to admit it,” said Wisconsin Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay. “We have to do something that is serious enough to force JCI to face the music on this because they have been dodging, dodging, dodging. Hopefully, today we can find a way to make them accountable to the people of this area and to the State of Wisconsin. This is a huge issue.”

JUST TWO, OF MANY STORIES

As the members of the Marinette-area addressed Kaul and other state officials Wednesday, several accounts of cancer and other health issues emerged along with frustrations directed toward both the responsible parties and the government. 

Marinette resident, Lisa Miller, recounted one of those stories.

Since the 1980s, Miller has lived in a neighborhood that now lies within the contamination plume resulting from Tyco’s release of PFAS-containing firefighting foams into the environment from their fire training center test field on the south side of Marinette. 

According to Miller, some PFAS sampling data showed levels of the substances in area waterways that far exceeded the 70 parts per trillion (ppt) health advisory level (HAL) set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Additionally, 2016 soil boring samples data collected by Acardis, a company contracted by JCI/Tyco to perform sampling and PFAS testing, showed that some areas encroaching Miller’s neighborhood also reached PFAS levels far above the HAL. 

Miller recounted the premature death of her two dogs, both beagles and both who died of the same type of abdominal tumors. Her story continued with descriptions of adverse wildlife effects that she and her family observed over the course of a few years, such as the disappearance of frogs and small fish that used to populate a nearby pond. 

Finally, Miller detailed the phone call that brought news of her daughter’s recent diagnosis of thyroid cancer with possible metastasis to other areas of her body. Not long after, another phone call from her one of her sons, informed her that his recent blood tests revealed questionable kidney and liver function. 

Both thyroid cancer and adverse kidney and liver effects represent some of the human consequences associated to PFAS exposure. Developmental disorders, endocrine system impacts, increased cholesterol and immune systems effects embody other ways PFAS can negatively influence human health. 

“There is the possibility that (my daughter’s cancer) may have metastasized and gone to other organs. If that is the case my 32-year-old daughter will be facing almost certain death,” Miller told Kaul and the audience gathered at the REC Center. “There is no reason for this, something is wrong and I would recommend an epidemiological study.”

Joan Campbell stepped up to the microphone next. She imparted a similarly disturbing story regarding the health effects that may be related to PFAS exposure. 

For 39 years, the drinking water consumed by Campbell and her husband originated from a private well in the area of Shore Drive in Marinette – located within the contamination plume. According to Campbell, one of the creeks running through their property has measured PFAS levels of up to 100 ppt (above the HAL). 

A few years before the JCI/Tyco informed the City of Marinette residents of potential contamination from the training facility, several of Campbell’s direct neighbors died of cancer. More recently, she and another one of her neighbors have both been diagnosed with cancer. 

While she avoided linking her illness, or her neighbor’s, directly to PFAS, Campbell focused her frustrations keenly on the parties she felt carried the greatest responsibility for PFAS seepage into the Marinette area.  

“Tyco has poisoned our ground and our water with their foam containing PFAS,” Campbell said. “We have all suffered from the profits of Tyco.”

Many other stories preceded – and followed – Miller’s and Campbell’s, and each one gave Wisconsin state officials attending the meeting information and a story of their own to carry back to their departments. 

AG’S TAKEAWAY

“PFAS is an issue that has an impact here (in Marinette) that has been severe, but it is not just here, it has had impacts in a lot of communities,” Kaul told attendees. “And working to address that issue comprehensively is something that is an ongoing process and something that we are very serious about.”

Following the first information session, the EagleHerald inquired to Kaul about the takeaway impressed upon him as he listened to the Marinette public speak. 

“Hearing from folks about exactly how they have been impacted by this, and how significant the impact has been on people is, I think, the biggest takeaway,” Kaul said. “One of the things that I think was very clear from what we heard was that the PFAS contamination has caused a lot of anxiety among people, and concern about whether PFAS has impacted their health and the health of their families, their friends and their neighbors.”