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DNR, state agencies advising communities and well owners on molybdenum in southeast Wisconsin

News Release Published: January 24, 2013 by the Southeast Region

Contact(s): Eric Nitschke, Southeast Regional Director, 414-263-8570

MADISON - Working with local and state health officials, the Department of Natural Resources is advising communities and well owners in southeast Wisconsin about testing their wells to detect elevated levels of molybdenum.

Molybdenum is a naturally occurring metal in the earth's crust that, in small amounts, is an essential nutrient in our diet. It is also found in some wastes, including coal ash and foundry sand. The DNR, local officials and well owners first learned of molybdenum at elevated levels in private wells in the Caledonia area in August 2009. A group of 153 private wells were sampled in the area over the past two years, and 44 of the private wells have tested for levels of molybdenum above the state groundwater standard of 40 micrograms/liter (ug/L).

An extensive DNR study completed this month helped identify areas of Milwaukee, Waukesha and Racine counties that have elevated levels of molybdenum, but was unable to pinpoint the origin of the molybdenum. "We were hoping the study would definitively tell us where the molybdenum in the wells is coming from," said Eric Nitschke, DNR southeast regional director. "While we're still not able to determine that, we're moving forward to continue to work with the affected well owners."

Nitschke said the agency recommends that, along with routine well testing for bacteria and nitrate, residents using private wells in the following communities should sample and test their well water for molybdenum:

  • the towns of Caledonia, Raymond and Norway in Racine County;
  • the city of Muskego in Waukesha County; and
  • residents using private wells in Franklin and Oak Creek in Milwaukee County.

The DNR will also work with water system owners to sample and test schools, daycares and community water systems in the six towns. The agency is also planning to host a series of public information meetings on molybdenum in several communities. The first will occur with the village of Caledonia, with a date and location to be announced in the near future.

A new DNR Web page on molybdenum is now available that helps explain how residents can get health information on molybdenum and how to access well testing and treatment options. Simply go to the DNR's website: dnr.wi.gov and type in the key word "molybdenum."

Officials with Department of Health Services are in the process of finalizing a public health assessment of molybdenum in Caledonia and Oak Creek area private wells. While the full assessment won't be available for a few months, DHS epidemiologist Elizabeth Evans concluded it is very unlikely that drinking water at the levels found in the area would result in health effects for residents.

The state health agency advises residents to avoid future molybdenum exposures by not consuming water that contains molybdenum above the Wisconsin groundwater standard. The low risk, according to DNR officials, is because of preventative safety factors built into the standards, allowing people to take action before experiencing health effects.

Treatment options

The Department of Safety and Professional Services has been working closely with water treatment firms on testing to provide an approved, in-home device for removal of molybdenum.

Glen Schlueter, DSPS water treatment specialist, explains that, while "no treatment device is currently approved specifically for molybdenum removal, distillation and reverse osmosis devices would effectively remove molybdenum."

Schlueter added that testing of these devices that use reverse osmosis and distillation for removing molybdenum is underway, and approval for that use is expected by March 30 of this year.

For more information

Well owners can have their water tested through a certified environmental laboratory. The DNR has a list of certified labs [PDF] on its website.

The DNR molybdenum Web page also has the following information:

For individuals testing their wells, the DNR is requesting people send a copy of any test results directly to Bill Phelps (DG/5), PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707. If they use a private lab, you can ask the lab to release that information, and the lab will send a copy of those results to the DNR. For more information contact Eric Nitschke, 414-263-8570.

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Last Revised: Thursday, January 24, 2013