Read the full article by Laura Schulte (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

“In a survey of 450 wells across Wisconsin, 71% had some levels of ‘forever chemicals,’ showing that the chemicals are prevalent in the groundwater not only in industrial areas, but rural areas as well.

According to a study released last week by the Department of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 22 PFAS compounds were detected in one or more wells, out of the 44 compounds that were tested for. While the compounds were prevalent in the tested wells, the vast majority had levels below recommended state and federal standards.

The study is the first of its kind for Wisconsin, and gives more information on levels of contamination in the state’s groundwater, a drinking water source for nearly 95% of the state’s population.

‘I think it’s about on par with what I expected to find,’ said Steve Elmore, the drinking water section chief for the DNR. ‘It’s interesting and helps further understanding of PFAS in groundwater in Wisconsin.’

The testing targeted wells 40 feet deep or less, meaning the sampling largely targeted ‘younger’ groundwater. The testing required under the drinking water standard for public water systems will help give the DNR and researchers a better idea of what’s in deeper wells over the coming months, Elmore said.

But while PFAS were found in a large number of wells, only 1% of the detections were at or above state standards or federal recommendations.

The most commonly detected compounds were PFBA and PFOA. PFOA is one of the most well-researched PFAS compounds, but PFBA is becoming more frequently detected.

The compounds were most frequently detected in developed areas, according to the DNR, with an 89% detection rate. But PFAS were also detected in 70% of forested areas tested, 69% of grassland areas tested, and 65% of agricultural areas tested. The three highest contaminations were all detected in rural areas.

The Town of Stella was one of the places identified to have elevated levels of PFAS during the DNR’s survey.

The DNR first tested one well in Stella last year, and found elevated PFAS. Since then, the department has expanded testing over two miles from the original well.

Well water in Stella has tested as high as 36,000 parts per trillion of PFAS, dwarfing the federally recommended standard of 4 parts per trillion for drinking water and the state standard of 70 parts per trillion for drinking water provided by public water systems. The numbers are likely some of the highest in the country.

So far, the DNR has sampled 114 private wells in Stella, which is about 10 miles east of Rhinelander. Of those 49 had levels of PFAS above the state limits, 32 had detections below limits and 33 had no detection. According to DNR information, 47 health advisory letters have been sent out, making those homeowners eligible for free bottled water.

Several bodies of water in the area have also tested positive for elevated levels of PFAS, including the Wisconsin River, the Pelican River and several lakes.

In addition to providing information to residents, the study will also help inform the PFAS groundwater standards, which are currently in the process of creation by the DNR.

‘It’ll certainly help us with that rulemaking process, including in our work on economic impact analysis that we have a draft of and are currently trying to finalize,’ Elmore said.

But above all, this study is going to help push research on PFAS in groundwater forward in Wisconsin, by allowing other scientists and researchers to view the data and pose new questions. Elmore hopes to see more research or testing stem from this dataset, he said, which could eventually help connect contamination to the source of PFAS.

‘I think that the data set here is going to be used for years to come, to both ask research questions and and to try to confirm sources of PFAS in groundwater,’ he said. ‘I mean, really, this was a study but it was also developing a dataset, so that we can further our understanding of PFAS sources in groundwater.'”…