State News

Harmful chemicals discovered in Monroe and Dane County creeks

The Department of Natural Resources detected large traces of flame retardant chemicals in multiple bodies of water across the state, raising concern about water quality during Gov. Tony Evers’ “Year of Clean Drinking Water.”

Image By: Lyra Evans

High levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance contamination (PFAS) were found Monday in Starkweather Creek in Madison and Silver Creek in Monroe County. 

The Department of Natural Resources’ findings showed significant amounts of the widely used chemical — often found in non-stick cookware and firefighting foam — in those areas as well as lower levels in three other water bodies across the state. 

Exposure to some PFAS above certain levels could increase the risk of negative health effects, such as thyroid disease, low birth weights and cancer, according to the DNR. 

While external exposure — from activities such as wading or swimming — are not necessarily dangerous, the DNR advised against drinking water with heightened levels of PFAS and suggests Wisconsinites wash their hands after being in contaminated water. 

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, alarmed by these findings, was concerned for her constituents, including those she met recently in Marinette. 

“PFAS chemicals pose a dangerous risk to public health and our environment ... especially where the highest PFAS concentration levels were found,” Baldwin said in a press release.

To combat this issue, Baldwin authored the PFAS Accountability Act, which would make federal agencies responsible for addressing PFAS contamination they were at fault for at military bases.

The Marinette representative John Nygren, who authored a bill to ban the use of “Class B” foams containing PFAS in most cases, spoke out about the results of the DNR test. 

“Silver Creek in Monroe County and Starkweather Creek in Dane County are over 100 miles apart, but they are linked by a common thread: immediate proximity to airports where firefighting foams containing PFAS were used,” Nygren said in a press release. “The use and uncontained spread of these foams contaminated the environment near my hometown of Marinette and a growing list of locations across the state.”

A known source of contamination came from the creek near Truax Field Air National Guard, where firefighting foam is commonly used in practice. The DNR plans to further investigate that area. 

The Environmental Protection Agency currently does not have a federal drinking water standard regarding PFAS. However, Wisconsin is developing drinking water standards based on recommendations from the Department of Health Services under Gov. Tony Evers' “Year of Clean Drinking Water” initiative. 

“Now more than ever, they need to step up and invest in research on how PFAS chemicals harm human health and establish meaningful standards to help protect Wisconsinites from PFAS exposure,” Baldwin said, calling the CDC and EPA to action. “We must address this public health crisis now.”

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