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Wisconsin Legislators Look to Address Toxic Chemicals

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of human-made chemicals used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam. (Pixabay)
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of human-made chemicals used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam. (Pixabay)
May 30, 2019

MADISON, Wis. – Firefighting foam may not be as life-saving as you think. The foam often contains chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which can be found in a wide range of products, from nonstick cookware to fast-food wrappers.

However, recent studies suggest that exposure to PFAS can inhibit female fertility, lower birth weights, and increase the risk of hypertension in pregnant women. Research also shows the chemicals can linger in the environment long after their initial use.

"They're toxic chemicals, so they don't break down naturally in the environment," said Ryan Billingham, communications director for Wisconsin Conservation Voters. "A lot of people are referring to them as 'forever chemicals,' because they just don't go away."

Companies in Wisconsin that use products containing PFAS have reported alarming rates of soil and groundwater contamination near their facilities.

Marinette-based Tyco Fire Products admitted not only was there PFAS pollution on its property, but that it had spread to surrounding residential areas. The company began issuing water bottles to anyone who may have had their private well contaminated in an effort to make reparations to the community.

As PFAS contamination in Wisconsin begins to raise more concerns, state legislators have come forward with two new bills that would attempt to address the situation.

One, introduced by Republican lawmakers, would limit the use of fire-fighting foam solely to emergency situations.

On the other side of the aisle, Wisconsin Democrats have proposed what they call the Chemical Level Enforcement and Remediation (CLEAR) Act, LRB 2297. It would require standards to be set for PFAS levels in the water, air and soil as well as the institution of monitoring requirements.

Billingham says his group stands in support.

"We here at Wisconsin Conservation Voters want to get this chemical out of our drinking water," he said, "but we also see the CLEAR Act being a much more comprehensive solution to a problem that is growing across Wisconsin."

The future of both bills remains uncertain. However, with the backing of such groups as Wisconsin Conservation Voters, as well as an endorsement from Gov. Tony Evers, the CLEAR Act looks to be Wisconsin's best chance at enacting stronger PFAS regulations.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - WI