EagleHerald/Emma Kuhn
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, center, speaks about the CLEAR Act in Green Bay on Thursday while, from left, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary-designee Preston Cole, Clean Wisconsin Director of Government Relations Carly Michiels, State Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay), Marinette County resident Jeff LaMont, State Rep. Staush Gruszynski (D-Green Bay) and State Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) listen. 
EagleHerald/Emma Kuhn

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, center, speaks about the CLEAR Act in Green Bay on Thursday while, from left, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary-designee Preston Cole, Clean Wisconsin Director of Government Relations Carly Michiels, State Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay), Marinette County resident Jeff LaMont, State Rep. Staush Gruszynski (D-Green Bay) and State Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) listen. 

GREEN BAY — State Senators Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Mark Miller (D-Monona), and State Representatives Chris Taylor (D-Madison), Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) and Staush Gruszynski (D-Green Bay) introduced the CLEAR Act (Chemical Level Enforcement and Remediation Act) on Thursday in response to the growing issue of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination in Wisconsin’s environment at an event in Green Bay with Gov. Tony Evers and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary-designee Preston Cole. 

“It is our responsibility as elected officials to act when we learn of new threats to public health,” said Hansen in his address to a crowd outside the DNR Northeast Headquarters that included members of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, local citizens’ water action group SOH2O, state water action group Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger (CSWAB), Clean Wisconsin and more. “This legislation gives Wisconsin the tools it needs to figure out where the contamination is, what’s causing it and making sure it gets cleaned up.” 

The CLEAR Act directs the DNR to establish acceptable levels and standards, monitoring requirements and response actions for PFAS chemicals that are determined by the Department of Health Services (DHS) to be harmful to human health for drinking water, groundwater, surface water, air, solid waste, beds of navigable waters and soil and sediment.

Hansen thanked Evers for his support of the bill, as well as the citizens of the Town of Peshtigo and Marinette that helped bring the issue to light. 

“This truly is the people’s bill,” Hansen said. “Because a tireless group of everyday people wants to make sure that everything is being done to protect themselves, their children and their neighbors. After all, water is life.” 

“A strong, healthy environment is essential for a strong, healthy economy,” Evers said in his remarks. “Not only does this bill address the problem, it’s one of the most comprehensive PFAS bills in the nation, and it relies on science. It will once again make Wisconsin an environmental leader.” 

“We reached out to our town, we reached out to the city, we reached out to our county board, among others,” said Marinette County resident Jeff Lamont, who thanked Evers, the legislators and the offices of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) for their support. “We were left with the feeling that no one cares or wants help to protect us. I am glad to report we are starting to feel proud again, about our state. ... This legislation will go a long way to address the challenges we face, and will provide the tools DNR will need to meet these challenges.” 

The emerging contaminant family of compounds known as PFAS is a group of substances that can be found in common household products such as stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products and firefighting foams. PFAS in the Marinette County area originates from local fire suppression system manufacturer Tyco Fire Protection Products/Johnson Controls, which began using the compounds in the 1970s for firefighting foams and sprays, with chemical testing and training at their local testing site in Marinette. The chemicals used seeped into the groundwater, which the company announced in November 2017. Since then, Tyco has been conducting an environmental assessment of its facilities and the surrounding areas in cooperation with the DNR.

A health advisory level (HAL) of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) of two PFAS compounds, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), was set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2016 for drinking water, after studies of the chemicals’ effects over time showed a variety of adverse health effects. Sampling in Marinette County has determined that PFAS compounds are present at levels above the HAL in private Town of Peshtigo wells and in biosolids produced by the cities of Marinette and Peshtigo’s wastewater treatment processes. The biosolids were traditionally spread on local agricultural fields, which introduced the PFAS back into the local water supply. Both cities have ceased biosolid spreading at the request of the DNR and are exploring alternate methods of disposal. 

The initial list of chemicals in the CLEAR Act includes PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFNA, PFBS and PFHpA. The DHS expects to have recommendations for levels of PFOA and PFOS in the coming weeks.

Laura Olah, executive director of CSWAB, said the organization was grateful for the introduction of the bill and the work of the legislators involved. 

“We look forward to working together with them and all of our legislators who are committed to protecting the future of Wisconsin’s water,” she said. 

The CLEAR Act is currently circulating for co-sponsorship in the State Legislature. Evers said there is currently no estimate for how much the bill will cost to implement, but he and Cole said the state and the DNR expect to hold Tyco financially responsible for clean-up costs for the Town of Peshtigo, the cities of Marinette and Peshtigo and the affected agricultural fields. 

Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot, who was in attendance at the press conference, said the city did not have any input on the bill, but saw its introduction as “a step forward.” The City of Marinette is working to schedule a public informational meeting with Tyco and the DNR about PFAS, and those with questions they would like answered at the unscheduled meeting may submit them to PFAS@marinette.wi.us. 

State Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) also introduced a bill this week with Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) to limit the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS in the state. A full story on Nygren’s bill will be featured in Saturday’s EagleHerald.