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“Forever Chemicals” a Growing Health Threat in NE Wisconsin

The manufacture of PFAS chemicals has been phased out in the U.S., replaced with what are known as "GenX" chemicals, but PFAS toxins persist in the environment. (MiMaLeFi/StockSnap)
The manufacture of PFAS chemicals has been phased out in the U.S., replaced with what are known as "GenX" chemicals, but PFAS toxins persist in the environment. (MiMaLeFi/StockSnap)
September 9, 2019

MARINETTE, Wis. — The discovery of chemicals linked to cancer, hypertension and other health problems in groundwater has scientists and people living near Marinette calling for more testing.

PFAS, often referred to as "forever chemicals," have been found in the groundwater near a Tyco Fire Products plant.

So far in 2019, scientists have tested 130 private wells in northeastern Wisconsin. They found elevated PFAS levels in 11 wells, and detected the chemicals in 26 others.

Jeff Lamont, a retired hydrologist, said the compounds have been found in his well. He said they break down slowly in the environment, stay in your body for the rest of your life, and have been linked to serious medical problems.

"Testicular cancer, high cholesterol, pregnancy problems in women, hypertension,” Lamont said.

Tyco has proposed expanding the City of Marinette's water system to include more homes that now use well water.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., hosted a closed-door meeting for people living near the Tyco plant last week. She wants the Environmental Protection Agency to take leadership for determining a national standard for safe drinking water. The agency has provided support for 10 states facing PFAS cleanup problems, but Wisconsin isn't one of them.

An underground plume of contamination from a firefighting training facility in Marinette is said to be spreading. And it could reach Green Bay, only a mile away.

Lamont said he worries Tyco could take shortcuts in investigating the extent of the problem. He added similar health threats have been found in other states.

"It's not just in this state and in my hometown. This is across the country, and in multiple DOD facilities,” he said. “This is a compound used by fire departments when it's not needed to be used."

Lamont is one of the leaders of a group of residents tracking Tyco's response. The current EPA health advisory level is 70 parts-per-trillion in drinking water. Lamont's well water tested at 21 parts-per-trillion, but he said neighbors' wells less than 300 yards away had test results of 88 and 120.

Dale Forbis, Public News Service - WI