MARINETTE — Wednesday, several pieces of new information escalated the scope of the investigation into the PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) plume leaching through the soil and groundwater beneath portions of the City of Marinette and elsewhere. Officials with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) broke the news during two PFAS information sessions hosted throughout the day at the Marinette Community REC Center.

Overshadowed by other developing PFAS news about the failure to convey two groundbreaking, bipartisan PFAS regulatory bills (AB842 and AB843) through the State of Wisconsin legislature, the new information that emerged during the session is being reported today. Those developments include an expanded PFAS investigation site, an approval of the biosolids land-spreading site investigation plan and new and concerning results from deep and shallow groundwater sampling wells located in the area of Stanton Street.

Moreover, according to DNR official, they continue to learn more with every step of the investigation.  

“We have a number of known contamination sites in the Marinette and Peshtigo area for which Johnson Controls, Tyco and ChemDesign are responsible parties,” said Christine Haag, DNR bureau director for remediation and redevelopment. “There is still so much we don’t understand about what has happened here (with regard to) the impacts of contamination.”

The DNR continues to meet and work with the responsible parties addressing the unknowns related to an issue that first emerged in 2017 when Tyco Fire Products LP and its parent company Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI), began informing residents and municipal official of potential PFAS contamination that originated from the testing of fire fighting foams (which contain PFAS) at their Fire Testing Facility (FTC) in Marinette. While useful for many industrial and consumer product, PFAS pose several human health and environmental risks.

From recent meetings and investigation findings, Haag highlighted a number of important action items and new information at Wednesday’s session.

NEW INFORMATION: BIOSOLIDS LAND-SPREADING PLAN

After thorough evaluation and discussion between DNR and Tyco, the biosolids land-spreading site investigation plan submitted by JCI/Tyco in November was approved in a letter from the DNR dated Feb. 18.

Since the late 1990s, the area farmers used Marinette’s biosolids as fertilizer. After JCI/Tyco informed the city of PFAS contamination at the wastewater treatment plant, that spreading ceased.

“We have accept the approach that the DNR outlined in their letter,” said Tyco Senior Manager, Marketing Communications Jim Cox. “We are pleased that Tyco and the (DNR) have agreed to proceed with this testing.”

One of the major changes to the biosolids plan stems from agreement by JCI/Tyco to sample a total of 61 fields throughout Marinette County and into Oconto County, where the city performed municipal biosolids spreading. Moreover, and of vital important according to Haag, JCI/Tyco also agreed to sample and test all potable water wells “within 1,200 feet of property boundaries” of those fields.

“We have worked closely with the DNR on PFAS issues for a number of years and this new testing will permit a more complete understanding of the sources of PFAS in this area,” Cox said. 

People with wells situated within that 1,200-foot boundary of the fields will receive notification from JCI/Tyco via mail informing residents that sampling of those wells will begin in early March. The DNR set a due date of May 11 for the tabulation of those results as well as JCI/Tyco’s analysis of the results.

To view a map of the fields that received biosolids, visit the City of Marinette Water and Wastewater web page.

“We have made clear to them that this will not be the end of the biosolids fields’ investigation,” Haag said. “When the snow melts, JCI/Tyco will need to look at groundwater, soil and etc. Looking at drinking water alone is not the end of the site investigation for the biosolids fields.”

NEW INFORMATION: DEER CONSUMPTION AND PFAS

In efforts to investigate PFAS effects on wildlife the DNR began conducting the harvesting and testing of deer in the forested area surrounding the Industrial Parkway FTC facility. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the DNR plans to collect tissue sample from 20 deer to measure for PFAS, anticipating those test results later this summer.

“At  this point we don’t have a consumption advisory for venison,” Haag said. “But these results will help us and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) understand whether there should be a consumption advisory.”

NEW INFORMATION: CONCERING PFAS LEVELS NEAR STANTON STREET

“The DNR received a report from JCI and Tyco that reports data collected from the groundwater monitoring wells at the Stanton Street facility,” Haag said. “And (the results) were a little bit of a surprise.”

According to Haag, shallow- and deep-well monitoring stations measured two types PFAS compounds (over 4,700 PFAS compounds exist). Those results reported combined levels of PFOA and PFAS as high as high as 1,400 parts per trillion (ppt) in the shallow wells and as high as 1,300 ppt in the deep wells.

“The report does not provide any information about the cause and significance of that contamination,” Haag said. “But that is a legal requirement, and we are working (with JCI/Tyco) on that.”

She further expressed concerns about the underground barrier wall constructed in the early 2000s to contain an historic arsenic contamination that resulted after uncovered and unlined waste piles leached liquid wastewater that contained arsenic salt directly into the Menominee River. The contamination occurred over several years, beginning in 1960. At the time, the Ansul Company owned the property and manufactured various products including fire suppression agents and herbicides. Ansul later became Tyco.

She explained that the barrier wall may be acting to contain the deeper (PFAS) contamination in the bedrock and the aquifer, trapping it there so that its accumulation continues to rise. 

As the situation develops, DNR officials continue to monitor and inform the public.

NEW INFORMATION: SITE INVESTIGATION BOUNDARIES EXPAND

Wednesday morning, DNR officials sent Tyco and JCI a letter instructing them to expand the site investigation area concerning the PFAS plume in Marinette and Town of Peshtigo.

In order to remain compliant with DNR regulations, expansion of the investigation area requires Tyco/JCI to conduct additional private drinking water well testing to determine the presence—or not—of PFAS levels. 

“If Tyco and JCI do not take immediate action to sample those additional drinking water wells then the State of Wisconsin will be stepping in,” Haag said.

The new site boundaries now extend south of Marinette to Leaf Road in the Town of Peshtigo. To the west, the boundary stretches to Pleasant View Road. To the north, it follows the municipal boarder from Pleasant View and runs east to the Menominee River, where it follows the river’s course to bay of Green Bay and out for fare distance from the shoreline.

Kyle Burton serves as the field operations director for the DNR’s Division of Environmental Management for drinking water and groundwater. According to Burton, officials elected to extend the boundaries to include residents living within those new areas of identified PFAS contamination. Testing of some private well in those areas revealed the presence of PFAS at levels above the DHS recommended health advisory level of 20 ppt. DNR follow up tests confirmed some of those results.

“If you are within that expanded study area … it is our intent that your well will be sampled,” Burton said.