DNR, PFAS Listening Session Raises ConcernsIssue Date: January 30, 2020
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Listening Session 5 on Wednesday, Jan. 15 was an update of who is doing what and the status of the investigation and clean up.
Christine Haag, Bureau Director Division of Environmental Management Remediation and Redevelopment of the DNR, began the session explaining the roles and responsibilities of the entities involved. Anytime a situation such as a contamination occurs, State Law dictates that the responsible party, in this case, Tyco, Johnson Control (JCI), has to immediately report the situation, secondly they need to take steps to restore the environment to its natural state, create a plan to follow and then recommend to the DNR their work plan for them to agree or disagree with their actions.
The DNR's role is to make sure the responsible party is in compliance with the law and then reviews all the technical information received from the offender. The DNR is then responsible for public participation and notification of what happened and then work with health agencies, local governments and other stakeholders in the community.
The responsible party is then responsible for openly reporting the contamination, do site investigation to determine the intensity of the contamination. They then need to take immediate, interim and remedial actions to reach a long term solution and satisfy the long term obligations.
There are four PFAS open site investigations including Tyco/JCI Fire Technology Center, Tyco/JCI Stanton Street, ChemDesign and the City of Marinette Biosolids land-spreading fields with JCI/Tyco being the responsible party resulting in several impacted communities.
Haag said to the audience, "Tyco/JCI owes a number of reports and things to you and to the DNR". A meeting was held Jan. 23 of all the expectations from Tyco/JCI, including drinking water sampling, test site sampling, well and biosolids testing.
Potentially Responsible Party (RSP) letters were sent out to Tyco/JCI and ChemDesign requesting information and testing of the City of Peshtigo Biosolids land-spreading fields, JCI/Tyco Woleski Road warehouse/ test facility and JCI/Tyco Pine Street test facility in Peshtigo.
Based on recent homeowner sampling data, DNR evaluation of groundwater data and other site investigation data, there are approximately 10 to 12 home owners outside of the original suggested affected area that are now contaminated and are above the recommended safe contaminant level of 20 Parts Per Trillion (PPT). The DNR has instructed Tyco to expand their study area and contact everyone in the expanded area of the need to get their wells tested. Tyco needs to sample the drinking water and proceed accordingly with drinking water systems for residents.
Tyco/JCI was contacted by the DNR to resample and provide drinking water to these residents and they denied to do what was asked of them. The DNR is working with the Department of Justice (DOJ) for the next steps to take if Tyco/JCI does not proceed accordingly. The DNR will then step in and do the testing and provide safe drinking water to the residents until there is no more money to spend and Tyco/JCR will be billed by the DNR.
Clara Jeong, PHD Toxicologist, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, explained there is a lot of work to be done on what effects PFAS has on our health. Work needs to be done in evaluating literature to determine safe levels in water, which is now 20 PPT; Identify pathways at specific sites and how much exposure do we get through these pathways; Make recommendations to prevent or reduce exposure and educate the affected communities and local health professionals about site contamination and potential health effects.
In various studies of several different diseases and health issues, there was probable association with PFAS exposure and increased or high cholesterol, preeclampsia, pregnancy induced hypertension, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, reduced antibody response, decreased fertility in women and testis and kidney cancers. At this time, we don't know how much PFAS has to be in our blood to cause these health affects.
Jeong said, "Things we have learned about PFAS are they can stay in the body for many years, they can cross the placenta during pregnancy and they can pass through breast milk. Major exposure pathways to PFAS include drinking contaminated water, eating fish caught from contaminated water, accidentally swallowing contaminated soil or dust and eating food that was packaged in material that contains PFAS.
The session then moved into the question and answer portion of the meeting with various people in the audience asking questions on various topics.
If a contaminant is in a persons blood and they donate their blood are we spreading the PFAS to other people? DNR response: It is true if you take out blood from one person and put in another, overall, it will transfer, but think about the volume. The PFAS will transfer, but the other person will not have the same level. At the blood banks, the blood is diluted and pooled so the amount that is transferred is minimal and has never been an issue.
If the DNR only has so much funding and JCI is not willing to cover costs and testing, why are we not holding them liable? If I contaminated my neighbors property I would be liable and probably sitting in prison. DNR response: The DNR received money we can spend in emergency situations or ask the responsible party to address and if they decline, they still need to take care of the people. JCI needs to come forward with the resources, provide safe water and do cleanup. The DNR is holding them responsible and this is our direction to follow the law and do the cleanup. When they fail we go through the enforcement process and they are referred to the DOJ and they will evaluate where we go from there. Just because we take emergency action doesn't imply we are not holding them responsible. Tyco will be charged back for the money we spend on the cleanup as well.
Is anyone doing any blood testing to get a baseline level? DNR response: The diagnosis is limited and everyone has PFAS in their blood with all the products this contaminant was used in. It is very hard to define where the contaminant came from. Senator Dave Hansen did recommend blood testing for employees of Tyco and the people in the affected area.
Is the Bay safe to swim in or is that an issue? DNR response: That is minor exposure. Tyco/JCI did submit a work plan to do a study and the results will be available in Spring. We are short staffed with not enough funding. Any proposed legislation you can support to get more funding and authority will help us in doing our jobs. There are a couple of pieces of legislation out there including the CLEAR act. This would do many things and give us additional financial resources and staffing.
Tyco/JCI refused to help in testing outside of the affected area, that is unacceptable, are there any plans to continue testing beyond the affected area? DNR response: Tyco/JCI delineated an area by the testing center and we will be asking them to do testing in other areas. We have already asked them to do testing of the biosolids and will be meeting in a couple of weeks to discuss the boundary area.
A young man in the audience announced he had several bouts with testicular cancer and growing up lived in the area of contamination. He stated, three out of 75 males in this area get testicular cancer, that is 10 times the national rate. It was confirmed that PFAS is associated with testicular and kidney cancers. Part of me knows there was something in the water, but the odds are in our favor, "JCI/Tyco will be held responsible"!
Muriel Carter, a Town of Peshtigo resident commented, "Thank You for continuing to come here. We appreciate you giving us updates, spending the time and answering our questions. Is there a way to assure the DNR gets more resources to continue"? DNR response: There will be a cost recovery from Tyco/JCI but it comes down to the cost benefit and whether the public can advocate for the needed legislation.
The DNR ended with advising they will be collecting data on deer at the Tyco/JCI testing sight. We are working on doing some studies on fish in the area waters and we will have data in the upcoming months. Haag asked for input of what the public wants to do from here, if they should continue to do monthly listening sessions or bi-monthly. Where do you want to go from here? Haag stated, "Even if we are not with you on a monthly basis, we are always there for you".
We want to have open and ongoing communication, ask questions, give feedback and let us know what topics you want to hear about by calling our message line at 888-626-3244 or emailing us at DNRJCIPFAS@wisconsin.gov You can also get answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the website: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/contaminants or do a search of PFAS Peshtigo and Marinette.
The last of the scheduled Listening Sessions will be Wednesday, Feb. 19 starting at 6 p.m.
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