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Surface Water Sampling Reveals PFAS At Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport

Contact(s): Sarah Hoye, DNR Communications Director, 608-267-2773,; Christine Haag, DNR Remediation and Redevelopment Program Director, 608-266-0244,

October 18, 2019 at 11:36:55 am

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - Sampling results sent to the Department of Natural Resources from Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport show per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were detected in several stormwater outfalls on the airport property.

In a letter sent to Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, Wisconsin Air National Guard and the U.S. Air Force on Oct. 17, the DNR informed airport and military officials that the sampling data collected by the airport indicates they are responsible for the PFAS contamination found in several stormwater outfalls at the airport.

As a result, DNR is asking airport and military officials to take steps to prevent future discharges of PFAS from the outfalls, as well as investigate the extent of contamination and provide a cleanup plan. Outfalls are locations where stormwater exits the facility property, including pipes, ditches and other structures that transport stormwater.

The DNR requested the airport sample the outfalls as part of reissuing an expiring Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit for the stormwater discharges from the airport and military bases. PFAS sampling was required since large airports and military bases are known to be potential sources of relatively high concentrations of PFAS (now shown to be true at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport) in cases where training and use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam occur on the property.

PFAS are a group of human-made chemicals used for decades in numerous products, including non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and certain types of firefighting foam. These legacy contaminants have made their way into the environment through spills of PFAS-containing materials, discharges of PFAS-containing wastewater to treatment plants and certain types of firefighting foams.

PFAS can persist in the environment and the human body for long periods of time. Recent scientific findings indicate that exposure to certain PFAS may have harmful health effects in people. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to some PFAS substances above certain levels may increase the risk of adverse health effects, such as thyroid disease, low birthweights and cancer.

The DNR, in consultation with the Department of Health Services (DHS), is developing groundwater, surface water, and public drinking water standards for PFAS. DHS provided the DNR with recommendations for groundwater standards in June.

Last Revised: Friday, October 18, 2019

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