WISCONSIN - On Tuesday, state Attorney General Josh Kaul signed a letter demanding federal action on perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of chemicals sometimes found in drinking water.
Story By Ben Meyer
But also this month, a coalition of Wisconsin groups protested proposed state regulations which would highly restrict PFAS in groundwater.
Last Monday, the City of Rhinelander announced testing had found high levels of PFAS in a city well, causing it to shut down that well. That set off interest and concern over PFAS in the area. Excessive PFAS levels may be linked to health issues, like high cholesterol, low female fertility, and low infant birth weights.
The manmade group of chemicals are found in products like food wrappers, stain-resistant fabrics, and nail polish.
In Tuesday's letter, Kaul and 21 other state attorneys asked the U.S. Senate and House to support the addition of PFAS to a list of "hazardous substances."
"I intend to respond in ways that we can, and I think it's critical that our state, and our country as a whole, respond to make sure that we're protecting health," Kaul said in an interview on Wednesday. "I think it's critical that we respond in a way that both takes into account the science that's available but is also making sure that we're protective of human health."
The special PFAS designation would streamline the process of cleaning it from certain sites. The attorneys general also want the federal government to provide money to address PFAS in drinking water.
Meanwhile, a group calls new recommended state PFAS limits "extremely restrictive," warning that they could "devastate" Wisconsin's economy.
"Much of what's driving regulation now is fear, and it's fear that's not borne out of science," said Lane Ruhland, the Director of Environmental and Energy Policy for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC).
WMC is a member of the Water Quality Coalition, a group of organizations and trade associations.
In June, the state Department of Health Services (DHS) recommended an enforcement standard of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFAS in groundwater and a preventive action limit of two ppt.
WMC said the preventive action limit, the level which may trigger action from the government to ensure levels don't reach the enforcement standard, would be the most restrictive on earth.
"This is an incredibly restrictive limit, and we're very concerned about the potential cost implications of adopting the most restrictive standard in the world in Wisconsin," Ruhland said.
The proposed enforcement standard and preventive action limit now go to the state DNR, which will develop regulations with the force of law.
Ruhland said the DNR doesn't have the ability to alter the numeric recommendations suggested by DHS. At the time of this writing, DNR representatives didn't respond to an emailed question on whether they have flexibility to change the numbers before they become official regulations.
The Water Quality Coalition is also frustrated by what it sees as a lack of openness and transparency as DHS developed the PFAS recommendations.
"It's a black box," Ruhland said.
In a letter to DHS Sec.-designee Andrea Palm, Water Quality Coalition members wrote, "The entire process was completed behind closed government doors, and with no input outside of the state agencies. Stakeholders and citizens were not allowed an opportunity to highlight scientific studies and information, nor to provide direct information to the agencies."
The DNR process to develop official regulations will likely take years.