DNR asks Rhinelander to make PFAS test results public while defending accuracy of previous testsSubmitted: 11/20/2019
Stephen Goin
Stephen Goin

DNR asks Rhinelander to make PFAS test results public while defending accuracy of previous tests
RHINELANDER - Contaminants found in Oneida County's Crescent Spring in August led the health department to put up signs that read "drink at your own risk." Those man-man substances, Perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS), belong to a family of chemicals called Perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS).

Recently, similar chemicals were found in Rhinelander's Well 8 according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The DNR is asking the city to be more transparent regarding those findings.

PFAS is found in stain-resistant fabrics, fire-fighting foams, food packaging and as a surfactant in industrial processes. According to the Environment Protection Agency, exposure to some PFAS contamination may have harmful health effects like thyroid disease, low birth weights and cancer.

Well 8 isn't the first Rhinelander well to show signs of contamination. Lab tests in May showed a concerning level of PFAS in Rhinelander's Well 7. That well was promptly shut down and tested every month since then.

Recent testing shows the levels of PFAS in Well 7 may have declined but the DNR does not want the original results questioned.

In a Nov. 5 letter, Rhinelander City Administrator Daniel Guild raised concerns over the original samples tested.

"I am happy to report to you that we have no repeated detections of the previous PFAS chemicals first sampled in May of 2019," said Guild. "This has raised several questions about the [sic] both the accuracy and veracity of the original sample which the detect was previously discovered." 

Water samples from Well 7 were tested by the Northern Lake Service in Crandon.

President RT Krueger says there are many reasons why results may have changed.

"You can have some pretty significant changes based on what's going on in that water table, based on things going up and coming down, and coming and going out," said Krueger.

Kruger ultimately stands by his lab's testing as does the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

In a Nov. 19 letter from the DNR to Guild, Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater Program Director Steven Elmore stated "the department has no reason to question the accuracy of previous PFAS sampling results."

Elmore believes the decline in PFAS concentrations found in Well 7 came from inactivity. Elmore claims if the well were back in service concentrations of PFAS would increase. 

In his letter, Elmore also asked Guild to make results from all PFAS testing public.

"The department recommends that Rhinelander accomplish this effort by posting all PFAS results on the city website as soon as reasonably practicable," said Elmore.

Krueger believes all that information needs to be explained to be effective. 
"Just because you throw these numbers out to the public doesn't mean that they're gonna' have that context that they need in order to make informed decisions," said Krueger.

In a press release, the DNR said the state has taken several steps to address PFAS contamination in Wisconsin.

The agency promised to keep working with the city and health officials to create and enforce water standards.

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