RHINELANDER - After Rhinelander Well 7 was taken offline in June over chemical contamination concerns, the source of PFAS pollution that led to the shutdown may have been identified.
A particular type of firefighting foam, which contains PFAS, could be at fault. According to the DNR, that foam would have come from the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.
"We have it [foam] on hand but we don't use it often," said airport director Matthew Leitner. "It's cost prohibitive for us to use."
While the airport has never used the foam to combat an actual fire, Leitner said his staff is still required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to check the potency of firefighting foam annually.
"An operation specialist here at the airport holds a bucket, and then just a little bit [of foam] at a low pressure is discharged through a turret," said Leitner. "We use a refractometer to test the concentration of the foam."
Leitner said the foam is never tested on actual flames and never touches the ground. After testing, the excess foam is poured into an air-tight container in an airport storage hangar.
In an Aug. 2 letter to the DNR, Leitner revealed the only documented hazardous material dump at the airport occurred in 1994 when 150 gallons of jet fuel was inadvertently released. After a remediation process, the incident was deemed closed in May 2002.
Leitner said he was "incredulous" when the DNR sent a six-page letter on Dec. 6 claiming firefighting foam was potentially responsible for PFAS contamination in Well 7.
"I would like to know more about how they connected the dots between the airport and the well," said Leitner.
DNR program manager Chris Saari says the airport is considered a potential responsible party (PRP) because of its proximity to the well. According to Leitner, Well 7 is located near the airport but does not reside on airport property.
"They are the closest entity to the well that has reported actually having these chemicals present," said Saari.
Leitner doubts the airport is responsible for PFAS contamination and offered up other potential sources of pollution.
"It's dental floss, it's pizza boxes, it's popcorn bags," said Leitner. "I don't know if the DNR is going to send everybody with a popcorn bag a letter naming them a responsible party for contamination."
Despite his doubts, Leitner said he plans to comply with DNR requests.
"We are fully pledged to being transparent, being in compliance, doing whatever we are asked to do within reason," said Leitner.
According to Saari, one thing the airport won't be required to do is discontinue its use of firefighting foam.
"My program at least is not telling anyone that you can't use this for legitimate firefighting purposes," said Saari.
Leitner says he will continue to ensure the foam does not get used.
"I know we don't discharge it, not on my watch," said Leitner.
The airport will now be required to hire an environmental consultant, submit numerous reports and conduct a field investigation.
A bill introduced in the state assembly, supported by Rep. Shankland of Stevens Point, would limit the use of firefighting foam.
RHINELANDER - People tested their athletic abilities Saturday with a twist on a classic competition. They gathered at the YMCA of the Northwoods for its first ever Indoor Triathlon.
27 participants joined in on the friendly competition. They moved between the pool, treadmills, and exercise bikes.
Event organizer Jayme Wyss said it's a great opportunity for athletes of all skill levels.
"It's really for everyone, and I think that's what's fun," said Wyss. "You can have someone who's a seasoned Iron Man triathlete and then someone who's never done anything. It's fun to see them push themselves and challenge themselves in a new way."
WAUSAU - A frozen river in Wausau's Sunny Vale Park got a bit more action than usual for a February morning.
Saturday, 300 people jumped into a hole cut into Big Rib River to raise money for Special Olympics Wisconsin.
The Polar Plunge is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the organization.
Mckenzi Johnson, a YMCA aquatics instructor from Stevens Point said she was excited to jump in.
"We have a great group of us that come out and jump together, and we have a really great adaptive program so it's really good to support all of our athletes."
Last year, the event raised $50,000; the goal is $52,000 this year.
Miranda Haima with Special Olympics Wisconsin said she was encouraged by the support she saw Saturday.
"Those are some pretty dedicated fans and supporters of Special Olympics Wisconsin, it says a lot that they're going to jump into some freezing cold water," said Haima. "These are some brave souls here and we got a lot of people cheering them on even if they weren't able to jump, they're here to show their support."
Saturday's Polar Plunge is just one of 13 similar events taking place around the state.
RHINELANDER - Six teams competed in the 10th annual CANtastic food drive at Rouman Cinemas in Rhinelander Saturday.
They built sculptures using thousands of canned goods. Those sculptures, resembling a bridge, lighthouse, license plate and more all followed this year's theme: "On the road to ending hunger."
Rhinelander Area Food Pantry executive director Guy Hansen said these teams do a lot of planning.
"First of all you have to figure out what you're going to build, how many cans of what color and what sizes you're going to need," said Hansen. "It takes a bit of planning and you need to get started a fair amount ahead of time."
STEVENS POINT - Volunteers in Stevens Point hope to pack 100,000 meals this weekend for kids in need across the globe.
Friday and Saturday, nearly 500 people will pour into an empty airplane hangar at the Stevens Point airport for the Feed my Starving Children mobile packing event.
University of Wisconsin Stevens Point senior Christian Kamrath helped recruit volunteers for the event through UWSP's Health Care Organization.
He says it's a rewarding experience and he loves coming back every year.
"I could be at home sitting on the couch watching TV but instead we're changing lives," said Kamrath. "You see not only the new members that say this is my first time, but it's so cool to see all the people who say this is my second, third time."
In two-hour shifts throughout the day, volunteers filled meal packs with rice, soy, dried vegetables and mineral powder. The packs will ultimately be shipped to over 70 countries around the world. Each pack holds six meals and costs as little as 88 cents to produce.
"The volunteer aspect is important to us as an organization," said Maddy Mowrey with Feed my Starving Children. "It's important for us to be able to work with the community and encourage their spirits as well as feed hungry bodies."
The organization is still aiming meet its more than $26,000 fundraising goal.
To donate to Feed My Starving Children, visit the following website.
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