Read the full article by Steven Elbow (The Capital Times)

“Test results of PFAS in troubled Starkweather Creek sediment show high levels for one of the more toxic varieties of the chemical group.

The results add to concerns about PFAS pollution in the creek, where water, foam and fish have already been found to have high levels of the man-made chemicals that are linked to an array of health problems, including immune deficiencies, liver and kidney problems, birth defects and cancer.

The tests were commissioned by the Midwest Environmental Justice Organization (MEJO), which sent samples from five sites along the creek to the state Lab of Hygiene last fall.

Maria Powell, director of the group, said she arranged for the testing after her requests were rejected by the city and county officials, and by the state Department of Natural Resources, which has conducted similar tests that found contamination in the creek. 

‘Sediment PFAS data is critical for understanding how PFAS compounds travel through aquatic food webs and for comprehensively assessing ecological risks to the creek, lake, fish, birds and wildlife,’ she said.

She said the current coronavirus pandemic adds to the dangers posed by PFAS contamination and called for remediation of the sediment. 

‘The COVID-19 crisis further highlights the need to clean up PFAS and other toxic chemical pollution,’ she said. ‘PFAS exposures are associated with immune system deficiencies that make people more likely to become infected by diseases such as COVID-19 and more likely to die from them.’

While there are no standards for PFAS contamination in Wisconsin, the state Department of Health Services has recommended a combined groundwater limit of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for two of the oldest and most toxic PFAS variants, PFOS and PFOA. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends a limit of 70 parts per trillion.

The most prevalent chemical found in the creek’s water, fish and sediment is PFOS, an ingredient in firefighting foam once used routinely by the Air National Guard at Truax Field, which is upstream of the Starkweather Creek contamination.

In January, the state issued advisories to limit the consumption of fish caught in the creek after testing revealed up to 110,000 ppt in fish tissue. In December, foam near the creek’s boat launch at Olbrich Park showed levels of up to 92,000 ppt. And in October, water from the creek had concentrations of up to 270 ppt.

Powell said that the sediment findings are important because fish take up PFAS from the sediment, then are consumed by anglers and their families.

‘Many shoreline anglers here in Madison are low-income people of color who depend on this fish as a source of food,’ she said, ‘so they are disproportionately at risk for these health problems.’

The highest level of PFOS in sediment was found in a sample taken just downstream of the Bridges Golf Club ditch, near the former Burke sewage treatment plant. That sample had 21,400 ppt of PFOS, and 24,482 ppt for total PFAS. A sample from the creek at Anderson Street registered 17,900 ppt for PFOS, and 27,800 ppt for total PFAS. A sample at Olbrich Park had 7,260 ppt for PFOS and 8,190 ppt total PFAS. And a sample from the creek at Fair Oaks Avenue registered 2,020 ppt for PFOS, with no other PFAS present.

By comparison, a tributary that is not downstream from Truax Field showed 392 ppt for PFOS and 643 ppt for total PFAS…”