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Join
or read about the PFAS Technical Advisory Group.
Read
about water quality PFAS initiatives and study results.
Stay informed
about PFAS contamination in the Marinette and Peshtigo area.
DNR database
Contact information
For more information about PFAS, contact:
Adrian Stocks
Water Quality Program
Kyle Burton
Drinking Water & Groundwater Program
Judy Fassbender
Remediation & Redevelopment Program
Kate Strom Hiorns
Waste & Materials Management Program
Craig Czarnecki
Air Management Program

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of human-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s.

PFAS do not occur naturally and are widespread in the environment. They are found in people, wildlife and fish all over the world. Some PFAS can stay in peoples' bodies a long time and do not break down easily in the environment.

The U.S. EPA has established cumulative-lifetime health advisories for PFOA and PFOS [exit DNR], which are two PFAS that have been most widely produced and studied, at 70 parts per trillion (ppt). At the request of the DNR, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) [exit DNR] is reviewing scientific literature to determine if there is sufficient toxicological information to recommend a groundwater quality standard for PFOA and PFOS in Wisconsin.

Public input opportunities

The DNR will continue to seek public input on PFAS investigation, contamination and cleanup issues. Public meetings are being held for PFAS contamination in the Marinette and Peshtigo area.

Gov. Evers' Executive Order #40 directed the DNR to create the PFAS Coordinating Council, now known as the Wisconsin PFAS Action Council (WisPAC), in partnership with other state agencies. WisPac will develop and coordinate statewide initiatives to address the growing public health and environmental concerns regarding PFAS. Meetings are open to the public.

The DNR has convened a PFAS Technical Advisory Group to discuss PFAS-related concerns. The group does not have an appointed membership; any interested party may attend.

News

In the news

Environmental impacts

Environmental impacts

Conceptual site model for how PFAS may enter the environment from firefighting foam applications.
Conceptual site model for how PFAS may enter the environment from one source (firefighting foam applications).
Source: ITRC

Drinking water and wells

According to public health experts, people can come into contact with PFAS by eating food, like fish, drinking water and breathing air that contains PFAS. Most non-worker exposures occur through eating food that contains PFAS or drinking contaminated water (please see the "Health impacts" tab for more information).

At the request of the DNR, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) [exit DNR] is reviewing scientific literature to determine if there is sufficient toxicological information to recommend a groundwater quality standard for PFOA and PFOS in Wisconsin.

Results of Madison Wells 15 and 16 pilot study

The DNR hired an environmental consulting firm in April 2019 to inventory current and former industrial and commercial activities to help determine potential sources of PFAS affecting Well 16, which provides water to part of Madison's west side, and Well 15, which helps serve the city's northeast side. Wells 15 and 16 were chosen for this pilot study because voluntary sampling events that occurred in late 2018 by the Madison water utility confirmed that the wells are affected by PFAS. The study showed that, in addition to known PFAS sources, there may be additional sources around Wells 15 and 16 that require further evaluation.

Soil

In Wisconsin, persons who own properties that are the source of PFAS contamination, or who are responsible for discharges of PFAS to the environment, are responsible for taking appropriate actions.

PFAS in soil may pose a direct contact risk to humans or result in chemicals entering the groundwater and surface water. The DNR's Remediation and Redevelopment (RR) Program maintains a web-based spreadsheet with soil residual contaminant levels (RCLs) that were calculated using U.S. EPA's regional screening level (RSL) web calculator, and following the procedures in NR 720.12, for determining soil direct-contact RCLs protective of human health.

Air

PFAS can be emitted into the air as vapors or fine particles. PFAS then travels in the atmosphere through adhesion to particulate matter. PFAS compounds, with the exception of ammonium perfluorooctanoate, are not currently regulated as hazardous air pollutants in Wisconsin.

There are currently no federal (U.S. EPA) approved sampling methods for PFAS compounds in ambient air. Furthermore, health benchmarks that estimate safe exposure levels are available for only a few of the many PFAS compounds that are present in the environment. The lack of test methods and emissions data from potential sources of PFAS compounds makes further study in Wisconsin necessary.

For more information on air quality in Wisconsin, see the air quality monitoring page and the air pollutants and standards page.

Fish and wildlife

PFAS accumulation in wildlife is an emerging area of interest and little is known about the possible effects of PFAS accumulation in wild animals and fish. PFAS is known to accumulate in exposed animals. In other examples of environmental chemicals that accumulate in the food chain, fish are a known and important source of exposure to humans. Studies of the association between fish consumption and PFAS accumulation in humans provide evidence that fish are an important exposure source with this class of chemicals as well. Read more about fish consumption and PFAS in the Health impacts tab.

Some PFAS would be expected in samples from any wild animal. The DNR does not have a way to predict how much PFAS might be in any wild animal based solely upon PFAS in the environment. In other examples of chemicals that accumulate in the food chain, the highest source of exposure for people tends to be fish.

Health impacts

Exposure routes and health impacts

PFAS contamination may be in food, drinking water, indoor dust, some consumer products and workplaces.

In EPA's health advisory documents for PFOS and PFOA, EPA reviewed the research pertaining to the sources of PFAS exposure. They concluded that diet is the major contributor of exposure to PFAS compounds, with drinking water and/or dust being additional exposure sources.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) [exit DNR] has additional information on PFAS, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [exit DNR] and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry [exit DNR] also provide additional health information on PFAS, including PFAS investigation and remediation efforts by other states.

Fish consumption and PFAS

Fishing is an important part of life in Wisconsin and eating fish that you catch can be part of a healthy, balanced diet. Fish are generally high in protein, contain vitamins and minerals and are the primary food source for healthy omega-3 fats.

However, fish may take in pollutants from their environment and their food. In Wisconsin, the DNR regularly tests fish to determine if they contain pollutants and special fish consumption advice is issued for waterbodies where higher levels of pollutants are measured.

For most of Wisconsin's 10,000+ waterbodies, the general statewide fish consumption advisory [PDF] should be followed. For the 146 waterbodies where increased levels of pollutants have been measured, special fish consumption advice should be followed.

In Wisconsin, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are the pollutants upon which most special fish consumption is based. At some sites, though, elevated levels of other pollutants, including dioxins and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), a type of PFAS, are the basis for special fish consumption advice.

Fish consumption FAQs
Where has DNR sampled fish to see if they contain PFAS?

Department GIS staff are currently working on a map of Wisconsin waters where fish have been tested for PFAS, including PFOS and perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA), as of 2017. The map will be posted here when it is available. Efforts are currently underway to test fish from more locations, as well as to revisit previous locations to re-test fish.

Can I eat fish that contain PFAS?

If you follow fish consumption advisories, you can get the health benefits from eating fish while reducing your risk from contaminants. Before going fishing, use the Choose Wisely guide [PDF] to determine if your fishing spot has special advice and then follow the consumption advice appropriate for the species and length of fish you’d like to eat. You can also search for advice for any waterbody in the state using the online Find Advice tool.

What waterbodies have fish consumption advisories for PFAS?

In Pools 3 – 6 of the Mississippi River, consumption advisories for some species are based on levels of PFOS found in fish tissue.

Although fish from some other waters also contain PFAS, in these locations the consumption advice that is issued to protect against the risks from consuming PCBs is more stringent than what would be issued based on PFAS alone. This means that if you follow fish consumption advisories, you can get the health benefits from eating fish while reducing your risk from contaminants, including PFAS.

Investigation and cleanup

Investigation and cleanup

PFAS may enter the environment and result in contamination to groundwater, surface water, soil and/or sediment. In Wisconsin, persons who own properties that are the source of PFAS contamination, or who are responsible for discharges of PFAS to the environment, are responsible for taking appropriate actions. Those individuals must also immediately notify the state, conduct a site investigation, determine the appropriate clean-up standards for the PFAS compounds in each media impacted (e.g., soil, groundwater, surface water and sediment) and conduct the necessary response actions.

State definitions of "environmental pollution" and "discharge" of a "hazardous substance" are not the same as the definition of a hazardous substance in the federal Superfund law and in some other states' laws. When discharged to the environment, PFAS compounds meet the definitions of a hazardous substance and/or environmental pollution under state statutes (s. 292.01, Wis. Stats. [PDF exit DNR]). Discharges of PFAS to the environment are subject to regulation under ch. 292, Wis. Stats., and chs. NR 700-754, Wis. Adm. Code. [exit DNR]

Soil

PFAS in soil may pose a direct contact risk to humans or result in chemicals entering the groundwater and surface water. The DNR's Remediation and Redevelopment (RR) Program maintains a web-based spreadsheet with soil residual contaminant levels (RCLs) that were calculated using U.S. EPA's regional screening level (RSL) web calculator, and following the procedures in NR 720.12, for determining soil direct-contact RCLs protective of human health.

The non-industrial direct contact RCL for both PFOA and PFOS is 1.26 mg/kg. The industrial direct contact RCL for both PFOA and PFOS is 16.4 mg/kg. There is no pre-determined, groundwater protective soil RCL for these compounds. Responsible parties would be required to propose a site-specific groundwater protection number.

Water quality

The DNR's Water Quality Program, in cooperation with the Fisheries Program and other partners, is developing a statewide monitoring project to sample fish tissue and water chemistry at select sites around the state near known or probable sources of PFAS. This project will help develop a baseline of PFAS contamination within the state and help to identify action areas and provide the necessary data for the appropriate response.

Water Quality's wastewater program has begun requiring testing for PFAS in certain general permit applications near known or suspected PFAS sites prior to granting coverage for new dischargers.

Read more about Water quality PFAS initiatives.

Other media (groundwater, surface water and sediment, air, etc.)

With respect to groundwater, federal maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) and state groundwater quality standards have not been established for PFAS compounds. The DNR has requested that DHS recommend a PFOA and PFOS groundwater health standard in Wisconsin. Lacking a groundwater health standard, the DNR has authority to require that the responsible party develop a site-specific clean-up standard for all contaminated environmental media in accordance with NR 722.09, if no numeric clean-up standard otherwise exists. This includes discharges and environmental pollution impacting the air, lands and waters of the state.

Sites with reported PFAS contamination in Wisconsin

If sites are discovered that have PFAS contamination, the DNR will work with responsible parties to investigate the contamination and take any other necessary actions (i.e., provide emergency drinking water or cleanup of soil).

To view information on sites where PFAS contamination has been reported to the DNR, please go to the DNR's Remediation and Redevelopment Program database (BRRTS on the Web), then go to the "Advanced Search" tab and under "Substances" search for "PFAS."

Resources

Wisconsin resources

To view PFAS sites involving the DNR, please go to the DNR's Remediation and Redevelopment Program database (BRRTS on the Web). To find sites with PFAS contamination in the database, please go to the "Advanced Search" tab, and under "Substances" search for "PFAS."

The Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services has health-related information about Per- and Polyfluroalkyl Substances (PFAS) [exit DNR].

Additional resources

Last revised: Wednesday November 13 2019