MARINETTE — The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) is holding its fifth monthly listening session in the City of Marinette Wednesday to seek public input on PFAS contamination in the Marinette-Peshtigo area.

The sessions enable the WDNR to continue its efforts to provide open and ongoing communication through monthly, in-person forums. They provide an avenue for area residents to meet with DNR and other state agency staff, and to ask questions and stay informed on the complex topics related to PFAS.

Representatives from the WDNR and the Department of Health Services (DHS) will be on hand from noon to 2 p.m., and again from 6 to 7:30 at the Marinette Community REC Center, 2501 Pierce Ave. Officials will provide a brief overview, answer questions and hear concerns from community members regarding the ongoing PFAS investigation, cleanup efforts and any health-related issues.

The session agenda will focus on the status of the investigation into the City of Marinette and Town of Peshtigo areas, and on who is addressing those efforts and what steps they are undertaking. Additionally, the DHS plans to lead a presentation titled: “Understanding PFAS health effects.”

Through scientific and epidemiological research, PFAS compounds have shown links to kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and pregnancy-induced hypertension in humans. Additionally, they have also shown adverse impacts on the natural environment.  

“The Journal of Environmental Health” published a newsletter from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in 2017 that outlined various epidemiological studies of PFOS and PFOA that showed statistically significant associations of those two substances to several health indicators. The ATSDR is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services.

PFOS and PFOA represent two of the most thoroughly research and historically used PFAS substances. Some of those associations cited low birth weights; developmental effects to growth, learning and behavior; hormone interference; increased cholesterol levels; effects on the immune system and increased cancer risk.    

A report form Arcadis titled “The Rapid Emergence of PFASs to Prominent Contaminants of Concern” stated that “given growing evidence of human health risks and potential ecological harm, more and more countries are now regulating an increasing number of PFASs.”

An additional factor that compounds the potential health risks of PFAS emerge from their environmentally persistent characteristics. In other words, PFAS compounds take years to breakdown in environment.  In addition to their persistence, PFAS tend to bio-accumulate within the human body. This means that the chemicals remain in the body for long periods of time; they are not eliminated via excretion or other methods as are other types of toxins. So even though an individual may be taking in low levels of PFAS, the amount in the human system accumulates over time. 

For several decades, PFAS-containing firefighting foams were tested at the Marinette fire testing center now operated by Tyco Fire Products LP and its parent company Johnson Control Inc.  Subsequently, those foams leached into the surrounding environment and were also discharged directly into the wastewater treatment center of Marinette.

According to Tyco officials and Water and Wastewater Operations Manager Warren Howard, direct discharge of the foams in the wastewater system ended in 2019.

Tyco currently ships those wastes to another a deep well injection storage facility in Ohio.  

The discharge into the Marinette’s wastewater system resulted in extensive contamination of the city’s biosolids, which are collected in large tanks at the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP). Between 1997 and 2017, the City of Marinette spread those biosolids on area fields for use as fertilizer. When awareness emerged about the effects of PFAS and the extent of area contamination, the City of Marinette discontinued the spread of those biosolids.

Further, the leaching of PFAS into the environment resulted in contamination of groundwater and various private drinking water wells in Marinette and the Town of Peshtigo areas.

Following Wednesday’s listening session presentations, WDNR officials will open up a question and answer session. 

Additionally, between the afternoon and evening sessions, WDNR staff will also be available from 2-3:30 p.m. for one-on-one questions from the public. 

The agenda for the Wednesday session can be found at dnr.wi.gov/topic/Contaminants/documents/jci/Agenda20200115.pdf

Questions may also be submitted in advance to DNRJCIPFAS@wisconsin.gov or a voicemail message may be left at 888-626-3244.