EagleHerald/John Liesveld
The City of Marinette Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP), located near the shipyard, receives wastewater from five main intake lines, three of which serve the Tyco Fire Products facility. Historically, area farmers accepted accumulated biosolids from the WWTP as fertilizer for their fields.  However, following the identification of PFAS-contaminated impact zones in both, private drinking water wells and Marinette’s biosolids, the city halted spreading of biosolids. 
EagleHerald/John Liesveld

The City of Marinette Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP), located near the shipyard, receives wastewater from five main intake lines, three of which serve the Tyco Fire Products facility. Historically, area farmers accepted accumulated biosolids from the WWTP as fertilizer for their fields.  However, following the identification of PFAS-contaminated impact zones in both, private drinking water wells and Marinette’s biosolids, the city halted spreading of biosolids. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: There will be a follow-up article on the PFAS issue in Tuesday’s EagleHerald.

MARINETTE — In the ongoing issue of per- and fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a letter of Notice of Non-Compliance to Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI) and its subsidiary Tyco Fire Products, LP Oct. 16. The notice addressed a prior request by the DNR for the implementation of a sight investigation (SI) work plan by JCI and Tyco of the fields where PFAS-contaminated biosolids from the City of Marinette Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) were spread between 1997 and 2017.

It is important to note that the city no longer spreads its WWTP biosolids on area fields. According to Operations Manager for Marinette’s Water and Wastewater Utility Warren Howard, the city sent its most recent accumulated biosolids to a licensed disposal facility located in the State of Oregon at an approximate cost of $3 million. JCI and Tyco assisted the city in that effort and paid for the cost of that transport.

“We did this as a voluntary step, knowing that there are other sources of PFAS in the community based on the city’s own testing,” said JCI Vice President Environment, Health & Safety John Perkins.

Perkins’ mention of “other sources” of PFAS contamination serves as a primary topic of contention that JCI and Tyco referenced in regards to the DNR’s noncompliance letter.

The Oct. 16 noncompliance letter cited a July 3 DNR letter to Johnson Controls International, plc, EHS Manager — Environmental Remediation Jeffery Danko in Green Bay. It addressed the significant levels of PFAS contamination discovered in the Marinette’s wastewater biosolids during 2017 and 2018, which resulted from the discharge of firefighting-foams containing PFAS from the Tyco facility.

For the last several decades, area farm fields received those PFAS-contaminated biosolids from the city as a fertilizer, resulting in the further spread of the chemicals. Thus, the July 3 letter identified JCI as a responsible party and requested that the company expand its sight investigations of potential PFAS-contaminated biosolids to the fields that received biosolids from Marinette between 1997 and 2017.

The DNR had requested the work plan by Sept. 3. However, as noted in the noncompliance letter, as of Oct. 15, a day before the DNR’s most recent PFAS listening session at the Marinette City REC Center, no biosolids SI work plan had yet been submitted by JCI or Tyco. Consequently, the DNR extended the deadline until Nov. 15.

“If you do not submit an adequate SI work plan to address fields (where biosolids were spread) by (Nov. 15), the DNR will take direct action under (State of Wisconsin Statute) to implement a SI work plan and evaluate further environmental action and cost recovery,” wrote DNR Remediation and Redevelopment Program Team Supervisor, Northeast Region Roxanne Chronert.

The Notice of Noncompliance received a prompt and preliminary response from Perkins the following day. In that response, Perkins stated the DNR holds the legal obligation to investigate alternative sources of potential PFAS contamination to those biosolids and fields.

To that point, Perkins explained, in early 2019 the City of Marinette had tested for PFAS in its five wastewater intake lines, each of which served different zones within the city. All five lines tested positive. Officials from Marinette’s water and wastewater utility confirmed that fact Oct. 21 at the Water and Wastewater Commission meeting.

“We are currently in a project with them that is close to $3 million dollars and (Tyco) is covering that,” Warren said.

However, Perkins explained that Tyco potentially discharged waste into only three of those lines during its operations. In regards to those three lines, Perkins said JCI and Tyco continue to work with the city, the community and the DNR to address the issue.

However, he contends that the presence of PFAS in the city’s biosolids and the surrounding fields originated not only from Tyco operations but also from other potential sources.

Additionally, Perkins cited the fact that industrial and consumer use of PFAS-containing products began as far back as the 1950s.

“So to claim that we are noncompliant is a distraction from the DNR’s legal obligations,” stated an official reply from Tyco in response to a list of questions from the Eagle Herald.

“What we are simply stating is that our company, Tyco Fire Products, did not have access to all five of those lines, just by way of infrastructure,” Perkins said, during a follow up interview. “So by the city’s own analytical work, it is very clear that there are other sources of PFAS within the community.”

According to the EPA, the historical and extensive use of PFAS, as well as their persistent half-life (or longevity) in environmental, which is often measured in decades or longer, resulted in widespread exposure to the environment and to most people in the United States. Studies and surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in 2003 to 2004 found PFOA and PFOS present in blood samples of over 98% of the U.S. population.

“We are still reviewing (the DNR’s) most recent (noncompliance) letter,” Perkins said. “We continue to have discussions with the DNR on a technical level. But we hope to have a more formal discussion with them specifically on the topic of biosolids outside the City of Marinette.”