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DNR Working with City of Rhinelander on PFAS Contamination in Municipal Wells

Contact(s): Kyle Burton, Field Operations Director, DNR Drinking Water and Groundwater Program, 920-662-5169,

November 19, 2019 at 3:30:23 pm

MADISON, Wis. - The Department of Natural Resources is working with the city of Rhinelander after recent sampling confirmed PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) contamination in area wells.

The city first detected PFAS in 2013 in the city's Well #7 during monitoring required by U.S. EPA's Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 3) and was again confirmed to be present in 2019. As a result, the city voluntarily removed Well #7 from service but continued to monitor the well for PFAS.

In a DNR letter sent this week to the city, Drinking Water and Groundwater Program Director Steve Elmore said the department "appreciates actions taken to date and those actions planned by Rhinelander Water and Wastewater utility (Rhinelander) relating to PFAS, as described in your November 5, 2019 Notice to Water Utility Customers."

The DNR letter also mentioned there is still a PFAS source that is likely impacting Well #7 and, while PFAS levels are low in the well, it is probably due to the well not being pumped and drawing in contamination.

"The department has no reason to question the accuracy of the PFAS sampling results, the laboratory or the test methods upon which they were based," Elmore said.

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 in a variety of ways, including 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 state has taken several steps to address PFAS contamination in Wisconsin, including working with the Department of Health Services (DHS) to develop groundwater, surface water and public drinking water standards for PFAS. DHS provided the DNR with recommendations for groundwater standards in June.

The DNR will continue to work closely with the city, DHS and local health officials on the investigation and to encourage the city to make any additional sampling results publicly available.

Last Revised: Tuesday, November 19, 2019

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