THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
Peshtigo Gets Results Of PFAS/PFOS Sludge Tests
Issue Date: July 3, 2019
Members of the public seeking more information on PFAS contamination in groundwater and surface waters in the Marinette/Peshtigo area can get questions answered at a community information meeting to be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 10 at the Marinette Community Rec Center at 2501 Pierce Avenue in Marinette.
The informational event, sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Wisconsin Department of Health Services, will include a general meeting on past, current and future actions associated with Johnson Controls, Inc./Tyco plus a formal presentation and time for individual discussions.
The evening will include an open house starting at 6 p.m., a formal presentation and time for questions from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m., and then an open house until 8 p.m.
A separate meeting is being planned for sometime in September to discuss long term water supply solutions for areas in the Town of Peshtigo where numerous wells have been contaminated.
Tests have shown there is no PFAS contamination in the wells that supply water for the City of Peshtigo's municipal water utility .
PFAS compounds are found not only in firefighting foams, but also in numerous other products, among them teflon cookware, waterproof clothing, Scotchguard stain preventer and Rain-X.
The PFAS contamination found in the Town of Peshtigo has been attributed to tests of fire fighting foams manufactured in Marinette by Tyco Industries/Johnson Controls for many years at its outdoor test site in Marinette. Later the tests were conducted inside a warehouse in the City of Peshtigo and water used to clean up afterwards was flushed into the city's sanitary sewer system and finally into its wastewater treatment plant.
As soon as Peshtigo Mayor Cathi Malke learned of the Tyco wastewater entering the city's wastewater system she ordered the testing stopped and the city sent test samples of the wastewater treatment sludge to a laboratory in California to have it tested for 25 separate biosolids.
Those results were recently returned and showed some of each of the materials, but of the two for which regulations are being established, sludge tested had PFOS content of 26 parts per billion, far below limits set for disposal by field spreading in Michigan of 1,000 parts per billion but somewhat above the Maine limit of 5.2 parts per billion. Because dealing with PFAS and PFOS compounds is quite new, Wisconsin DNR has not yet set limits for the compounds in sludge acceptable for field spreading.
In a letter to Peshtigo Public Works Director George Cowell dated June 27, DNR Wastewater Specialist Alexis Heim Peter said because the Peshtigo WWTP biosolids tests show results that fall between the Michigan and Maine rules they are asking that the material not be land spread at this time. She said they expect to have additional information by September, still in time for the fall land spreading season.
Malke said she would not knowingly have harmful material spread on any fields.
Cowell said the main Peshtigo sludge holding tank is nearly full at present, and they will have its contents pumped into the spare tank for holding, which will give them capacity for almost another year.
There is a third holding tank that could be put into use if necessary, but it is currently used as a clean water reservoir kept for cleaning the other two tanks as necessary.
In a worst case scenario the material could be hauled to an incinerator for disposal. Malke said the nearest incinerator she knows of that burns at a high enough temperature to break down the PFAS/PFOS compounds is located in Canada.
Sludge from City of Marinette's wastewater treatment plant also shows excess PFAS content and they too have been asked by the DNR to hold on to the sludge until more information is available.
Sludge from wastewater treatment plants is normally disposed of by hauling it by the truckloads by licensed haulers to farm fields approved by the DNR, where it serves as a fertilizer. Cowell said the City of Peshtigo will somewhat follow the lead set by Marinette in terms of sludge disposal since their sludge PFAS content is 10 times that of Peshtigo and they have a head start in gathering information.
Malke said the Johnson Controls people she has worked with, particularly Scott Wahl, have been extremely cooperative and she believes they are genuinely interested in working with the DNR and the local communities to solve the problem. They have paid for the City of Peshtigo's biosolids tests to date and are willing to pay for more, she said.
She said in nearly every community in Wisconsin that has had its wastewater treatment sludge tested the results have come back showing PFAS content.
Cowell noted the PFAS products have been used since the early 1950s, and only recently did the public become aware of the damage they can cause in the environment.
Malke and Cowell agreed that checking needs to be done to see if some of Peshtigo's sludge content comes from other sources in the city. He has not yet asked the Water and Sewer Committee for permission, but he would like to take test samples at about 10 spots in the city, including each of the lift stations and the main river crossing, to determine where the PFAS/PFOS compounds are coming from. They could then narrow it down and pinpoint the actual source or sources. If it were found that a business had too much of the contaminants in its wastewater they would have to either change the products they use or change their method of operations. He is hopeful the DNR will establish standards soon so it is easier for both the city and the DNR to keep the compounds out of the system.