EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Dave Neste, hydro-geologist for the Northeast Region Remediation and Redevelopment talks about the filters and contamination levels of PFAS/PFOS of Ditch A & B at the DNR listening session Wednesday at the Family REC Center in Marinette.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Dave Neste, hydro-geologist for the Northeast Region Remediation and Redevelopment talks about the filters and contamination levels of PFAS/PFOS of Ditch A & B at the DNR listening session Wednesday at the Family REC Center in Marinette.

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MARINETTE — Officials from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources hosted a listening session regarding old and new developments in the continued concern over per- and polyflouroalkyl substances (PFAS) environmental contamination of ground and well water in the Marinette, Menominee and Peshtigo areas. Concerned residents from those areas and other surrounding communities packed the Community Room at the City of Marinette Community REC Center with standing room only.

More significantly, officials from the DNR’s Wildlife Management wing attended. They focused the conversation on the relatively new matter of PFAS levels in area deer populations and the potential risk that consumption of those animals may pose. Making the wildlife issue more poignant, the deer season for bowhunters began Sept. 14 and the start of the gun season awaits just a month away, Nov. 16. 

Contamination of wildlife by various pollutants such as PCBs, metals, DDT and other chemicals and pesticides has continued over the course OF several years. Additionally, the wildlife experts at the DNR monitor levels and study effects of emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and, of course, PFAS

“I first started looking at PFAS in wildlife back in 2007,” said DNR Environmental Toxicologist Sean Strom. “So we actually have a pretty good data library of PFAS in Wisconsin wildlife.”

Based on that data and according to Strom, an existing water foul consumption advisory exists in three main regions of Wisconsin: the lower Green Bay/Fox River region, the Sheboygan River and the Milwaukee Estuary. However, those advisories address only PCB and mercury contamination; not PFAS. Strom added that the advisories will remain in effect until analysis suggests the need for revision. 

In regards to research on PFAS contamination in wildlife, Strom explained that the DNR focuses primarily on Bald Eagles. 

“We know more about contaminants in Bald Eagles than in just about any other wildlife species,” Strom said.

The Wisconsin Bald Eagle Bio-sentinel Program represents a collaborative effort since 1990 that tracks bald eagle contaminant levels in Wisconsin by collecting the birds plasma, whole blood and feathers. In that time, DNR official have gleaned valuable information. 

“We cover huge laundry list of contaminants that include both legacy and emerging contaminants, including PFAS,” Strom said. 

Findings indicate that a toxic level of the PFAS in birds begins at about one part per million and he pointed out that the average levels of PFAS contamination in Wisconsin eagles falls well below that threshold. 

In the Marinette and Peshtigo area, three Bald eagle nests were sampled. One nest located near Blueberry Island, which stands about a mile from the mouth of the Menominee River where it enters Green Bay. The other two nests are situated south of that location on the Peshtigo River.

According to PFAS testing results, Strom said that the contaminants were well below the toxic benchmark.

When it comes to research regarding PFAS in the deer population, State of Wisconsin DNR officials assembled much of their information from studies by the State of Michigan. Michigan has reported PFAS results on about 150 deer with 100 of those sampling from PFAS contaminated sites. 

“Only one deer (of those 100) had PFAS levels that warranted an advisory,” Strom said. 

A preliminary sampling plan is under discussion by Wisconsin DNR officials that aims to sample approximately 20 deer during late winter to early spring of 2020.  The collection will focus on an area around the Johnson Controls complex in the City of Marinette. 

“We figured (that sampling area) would give us the quote, unquote, worse case scenario,” Strom said. “We will then work with the Department of Health Services to interpret the results and evaluate the need for an advisory.” 

According to DNR Remediation and Redevelopment Program Director Christine Haag four more PFAS listening sessions are currently planned for Nov. 20, Dec. 18, Jan. 15 and Feb. 19. The next session, Nov. 20 will primarily discuss air distribution of PFAS. 

“Our goal (with the PFAS listening sessions) is to ensure that the public has a forum to receive information directly from the DNR,” Haag said. “But more importantly, to come and share their concerns and ask their questions.”