Read the full article by Isiah Holmes, Wisconsin Examiner (Urban Milwaukee)

“The decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to side with Republican state legislators and throw out the Safer at Home order not only created a scramble as local governments make their own rules, it has also affected certain operations in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

As the realities of the pandemic began setting in, the department sought to continue its efforts to identify and clean up land and waterways contaminated by PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Not long before the Supreme Court decision, the DNR began evaluating a request by Johnson Controls to halt well-water sampling until the statewide public health emergency subsided. Throwing out Safer at Home, however, has affected that evaluation process.

PFAS, along with PFOA (Perfluorooctanoate), make up an expansive family of man-made chemicals dating back decades. The compounds repel water and other substances when sprayed as a coating onto a surface, and do not break down in the natural environment. They have been used in a variety of products from non-stick Teflon pans to fast food wrappers, clothing and firefighting foam. Over time the compounds have also been linked to disease in both humans and other animals, from cancers to birth defects.

Sometimes referred to as ‘forever chemicals,’ these man-made products move from one medium to another, and do not break down once they enter the body. Regulating them, and cleaning up contamination sites, became a growing priority of the state Legislature before COVID-19 arrived in the U.S.

Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services has stated that PFAS levels in water exceeding 20 ppt (parts per trillion) are not safe. In an April Zoom call update Christine Haag, DNR remediation and redevelopment program director, described PFAS research as a ‘still very emerging as a science.’

Numerous contamination sites have been detected throughout Wisconsin. Some are decades-old landfills, others are private wells or lakes and streams which the state has only recently discovered are contaminated.

Most recently in Milwaukee, PFAS was detected in the Estuary Area of Concern. About 13 locations in the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers, a spot in Lake Michigan, and along the inner and outer harbors have been shown to have not just PFAS, but also lesser known PFHxS (Perflurohexanesulfonate) and others still…”