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Friday, June 25, 2021
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Evers and Kaul asked the DOA to seek an outside law firm to prosecute PFAS polluters. The chemicals, which can be detrimental to human health, were recently found in Madisonian bodies of water. 

State plans legal action against PFAS polluters as “forever chemicals” found in Madison lakes

Gov. Tony Evers announced Friday that the state plans to take legal action against PFAS contaminators. Evers and Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul asked the Department of the Administration (DOA) to select an outside law firm to assist the state in addressing companies responsible for contamination.

The Evers administration did not provide details as to which companies would be targeted with litigation. 

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of human-made chemicals that pose risks to human health. These risks include decreased immune response to vaccinations, decreased antibody response and increased risks of certain cancers and kidney disease.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the “forever chemicals” were recently found in the Yahara River as well as Madison’s five lakes. While the lakes are not sources of drinking water, PFAS can accumulate in animals such as fish. 

The DNR has not yet warned against eating fish in the bodies of water. The department began testing the lakes on Friday, and results are expected by this winter or spring. 

“Those companies responsible for the contamination of our land and water should be held accountable so we can move forward in cleaning up this pollution for the health and safety of our communities,” Evers said in a press release.

Evers’ plan was strongly supported by Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, who said that “polluters must be held accountable” in a press release. Hebl also criticized the Republican-controlled legislature for failing to take action on PFAS and other issues facing Wisconsin.  

Evers’ announcement was also supported by the Clean Wisconsin director of government relations Carly Michiels.

“Against legislative inaction and limiting any PFAS protections at the behest of an industry and PFAS-users, this action finally provides accountability and prioritizes public health,” Michiels said in a statement.

Michiels added that PFAS “harms certain communities more than others,” but that this plan from the Evers administration prioritizes those impacted the most by promoting accountability.

This plan comes after the Groundwater Coordinating Council (GCC) of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released their PFAS Action Plan in December 2020 as a recommendation to the administration. 

This action plan includes eight major themes, each of which have at least two action items. One action item centers around legal measures against corporations responsible for PFAS contamination. 

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Other action items include establishing PFAS standards, developing more comprehensive PFAS testing throughout the state, minimizing PFAS discharges, increasing community knowledge on the risks of PFAS and more. 

The GCC also made recommendations to the legislature in their annual report released in September. Last spring, the state Assembly passed legislation on water quality issues, including PFAS contamination, but the Senate never took up the bills. 

The DOA plans to solicit bids from law firms willing to follow the guidelines set forth by Wis. Stat. § 20.9305(2), which lay out regulations for contracting for legal services on a contingent fee basis. After a law firm is found and approved, Evers will make the final plan for receiving counsel against PFAS contaminators.

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Emma Grenzebach

state news writer

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