Wisconsin Agency Asks Wastewater Plants to Test for PFAS

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is requesting that 125 wastewater treatment facilities test influent and effluent for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances

Wisconsin Agency Asks Wastewater Plants to Test for PFAS

The Rhinelander Wastewater Treatment Plant near our offices at COLE Publishing is among the facilities being asked to test for PFAS in the next 90 days. (Photo By Cory Dellenbach)

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The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is asking its largest municipal wastewater treatment plants to test for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The department sent a letter to 125 facilities July 29 requesting that they sample their influent and effluent within 90 days to document PFAS levels. The plants were chosen based on their size or the likelihood PFAS could be in their wastewater stream due to industrial customers that may be using the chemicals.

DNR wastewater section chief Jason Knutson tells Wisconsin Public Radio that there is ongoing concern surrounding the compounds. “We’re working within our existing authority to do the best that we can to begin addressing them and continue to build our tools available to do that effectively and protect human health and the environment. If the samples come back and they’re above a certain threshold, we would use our tools available at the state level to partner with those municipalities to identify and address any sources of (PFAS) to their sewers.”

The concern is that the contaminants may affect drinking water sources via runoff after land application.

Among the treatment plants asked to test for PFAS is the Rhinelander Wastewater Plant near our offices at COLE Publishing. In a story that's sounding increasingly familiar around the U.S., the request comes on the heels of information released by the City of Rhinelander to its water customers reporting that PFAS were detected in a city water supply.

Although the compounds aren’t currently regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Act or the state and the utility isn’t required to test for them, municipal leaders decided in late spring to investigate whether there was evidence of PFAS in city wells. 

“After recent testing, the city discovered that PFAS levels within Well 7 were higher than what health agencies monitoring this issue are currently suggesting for maximum lifetime exposure,” the City of Rhinelander wrote in a press release. “Because of this, the city has turned off Well 7, and removed it from regular service. It will remain offline for the foreseeable future.”

Madison Water Utility also launched a voluntary testing program which is reportedly finishing up in July. The results will be used as part of a larger effort in Wisconsin to study water sources.

The state’s Department of Health Services also recently recommended new groundwater enforcement standards for the two most well-known PFAS: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). After hearing public input on the matter, the DNR may put forth rules to incorporate those recommendations of 20 ng/L as an enforcement standard and 2 ng/L as a preventative action limit.

Nationwide issue

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul joined 21 other state attorneys general in asking congress to pass legislation aimed at helping states address PFAS.

“Drinking water contamination can result in serious public health problems,” Kaul said in a news release. “Congress should take swift action to protect the safety of our water, including by designating PFAS as a hazardous substance.”


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