EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard 

Ditch A, off of University Drive in Marinette, represents an after-the-fact method of preventing PFAS contamination to the ground and surface water in the City of Marinette and surrounding communities. However, the passing of the PFAS Right-To-Know Act, will enable communities and local governments to gain better footing “upstream” and offer more leverage in the prevention of future contamination. In Ditch A the Granular Activated Carbon filtration system, installed by Tyco, filters out PFAS. The black and pink barriers cordon off a section of ditch. Then, as water passes into that section, it is diverted through a complex pumping an filtering system.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Ditch A, off of University Drive in Marinette, represents an after-the-fact method of preventing PFAS contamination to the ground and surface water in the City of Marinette and surrounding communities. However, the passing of the PFAS Right-To-Know Act, will enable communities and local governments to gain better footing “upstream” and offer more leverage in the prevention of future contamination. In Ditch A the Granular Activated Carbon filtration system, installed by Tyco, filters out PFAS. The black and pink barriers cordon off a section of ditch. Then, as water passes into that section, it is diverted through a complex pumping an filtering system.
MARINETTE — The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) advanced from bill to “law of the land” Dec. 20 when President Donald Trump penned his signature to the colossal document.

Thanks in part to the efforts and the co-lead of U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., embedded within the depth of that legislation, a bipartisan amendment called the PFAS Right-To-Know Act, adds to the ever-growing oversight and regulation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS). Although the bill lacks many of the sought-after regulations and enforcement for groundwater, surface water and drinking water pursued by other organizations, it does provide more leverage and knowledge in the prevention of future PFAS contamination.

Kindled in part by PFAS issues in the City of Marinette, as well as at numerous locations across the nation, implementation of the act occurs in 2020, and comes almost 20 years after the EPA first received evidence that such chemicals posed threats to human health and the environment. That evidence came from a large lawsuit filed against manufacturing plant owned by E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. in 2001. The lawsuit came after the plant discharged thousands of tons of chemical waste containing PFAS into a landfill located in Wood County, West Virginia – a discharge that occurred over the course of many years. The contamination caused environmental, agricultural and human health impacts throughout the community. Those impacts included deaths of humans and animals.

COMMUNITY AND GOVERNMENT MONITORING OF PFAS

The PFAS Right-To-Know Act requires U.S. facilities and manufacturers that utilize and produce PFAS compounds to disclose annually, to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), any “release” of those compounds after a certain threshold level is reached. As defined by the EPA, a “release” of a chemical “means that it is emitted to the air or water, or placed in some type of land disposal.” The TRI serves as a U.S. publicly available data-base that itemizes toxic chemical releases and the management activities related to various industrial and consumer wastes.

“It is a step in the right direction into helping us know where these chemicals are being used,” press secretary for Gallagher’s office Jordan Dunn told the EagleHerald. “It will help us gather more information to know where these chemicals are going to be used; so at the end of the day we can better address these problems and make sure that communities are better prepared and have the resources they need to combat the threats that PFAS pose.” When first introduced in May, the supporters of the PFAS Right-To-Know Act included a bipartisan crew composed of Gallagher; New York Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y.; U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., and U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.

As Wisconsin’s 8th District U.S. representative, Gallagher’s region includes Marinette and several surrounding counties. His interest in stemming PFAS-related harms originated with the his concern over the preservation and stewardship of Wisconsin’s environment, particularly as it relates to water. Gallagher also serves as a member of the U.S. Congressional PFAS Task Force, a bipartisan group that addresses PFAS issues as an urgent and public health-related problem. The Task Force works to devise better ways to protect communities from the chemicals’ harmful effects.

“Northeast Wisconsin knows all too well about the growing threats that PFAS pose to our waters and our communities,” Gallagher said when the Act was first introduced in May. “Adding (these contaminants) to the TRI will ensure we have more information on how to address this problem.” He also continues to back the Save the Bay initiative, a collaborative effort in Northeastern Wisconsin where agriculture, academia, industry, government and nonprofit leaders work together to reduce certain pollutants and sediment flowing into the waters of the Bay of Green Bay and Lake Michigan. Those efforts seek to eliminate dead zones and algal blooms which have been on the rise in both size and frequency in recent years.

“Congressman Gallagher takes water issues, including PFAS, very seriously,” Dunn said. “Once per quarter he brings together various stakeholders in the dairy industry, agriculture, business and the environment … to collaborate on ways (those institutions) can come together and preserve Wisconsin’s waters. And PFAS obviously plays a big part in those conversations.”

Since their industrial and commercial use began in the mid-20th century, various PFAS compounds have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and pregnancy-induced hypertension in humans. Known for their unique properties to resist high temperatures and create non-stick and waterproof surfaces, the substances make up the ingredients of many consumer products such as non-stick kitchenware, waterproof coats and food wrappers. They are also used in various industrial processes.

In Marinette, during the 1970s and following decades, Tyco Fire Products testing facility used PFAS-containing firefighting foam for live testing. Over many years PFAS leached into groundwater and were also discharged into the Marinette wastewater treatment system. The release resulted in widespread contamination of wastewater biosolids, several private wells, and ground and surface water in the Marinette area.

The TRI enables the EPA as well as the communities, in which such facilities operate, to monitor those releases. In turn, those communities and government officials can better track the use and management of PFAS. It allows for more informed decisions when creating legislation and regulation of the chemicals.

JUST A PIECE OF THE SOLUTION

Dunn admitted that the PFAS Right-To-Know Act does not offer a full solution to the problems caused by PFAS that currently confront many communities. However, he emphasized that the Right-To-Know Act allows local communities and governments to move “upstream” and closer to the prevention of future contamination. By doing so it can help those communities avoid tragic consequences that have occurred in the past with other chemicals included on the TRI. “I think there a lot we don’t know; and (with the PFAS Right-To-Know act) there is accountability at all levels,” Dunn said. “The bill is a small step in the right direction to make sure that we have better information as to where these chemicals are (used and released).”

More specifically, when implemented next year, the act will require industries and users of PFAS to report the release of five of the most utilized and researched PFAS. In addition, releases of many associated derivatives of those compounds must also be reported. Those initial five compounds include PFOA, PFOS, GenX, PFNA and PFHxS. After two years, the act requires the EPA to consider the further addition of some of the over 4,000 existing PFAS not yet listed on the TRI.

The TRI falls under the mandates of the EPA’s Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986. When it was first enacted, the EPCRA established an initial list consisting of more than 300 toxic chemicals residing in 20 categories. By 2001 that list had grown to 600; on Dec. 20 it added several more. A tragic disaster in Bhopal, India ,in December of 1985, served as the impetus for the creation of the EPCRA. The disaster involved the accidental release of the highly toxic methyl isocyanate gas, which resulted in the death of approximately 3,800 people and the injury of tens of thousands more, according to the EPA. In the U.S. public outcry for legislation and regulation followed and two years later the EPCRA was signed by President Ronald Reagan.

As for the PFAS Right-To-Know Act, Dunn reiterated the importance of understanding the sources, uses and releases of PFAS into the environment. In that way, local, state and federal environmental officials can facilitate more inclusive regulation and enforcement.

“If you don’t have that information it is hard to address and then prevent the problem going forward,” Dunn said.