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Report Calls for State-Level Action on PFAS Crisis

Toxic chemicals called PFAS are used in common products such as non-stick frying pans. (JPC24M/Flickr)
Toxic chemicals called PFAS are used in common products such as non-stick frying pans. (JPC24M/Flickr)
September 11, 2019

MADISON, Wis. - A new report from the National Wildlife Federation calls for elected leaders in Wisconsin and other states to confront what it calls a "PFAS crisis."

The toxic chemical is linked to certain cancers and other health problems, and has been detected in drinking, ground and surface waters around the state as well as in the bodies of fish and wildlife. Gov. Tony Evers recently signed an executive order to develop a PFAS action plan for the state.

Thomas Johnston, who chairs the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation's environmental committee, said he's heartened that Evers is taking the threat seriously.

"PFAS contamination is an open wound in Wisconsin that continues to harm the environment and the economy," he said. "After years of inaction, our hope is that state leaders will take the bull by the horns and confront this threat."

The report called for states to set and enforce clean-water protections, invest in modernizing infrastructure to prevent PFAS contamination, and support research and monitoring to shape strong policy decisions. PFAS chemicals are used in many products, including non-stick pans, baby bibs and firefighting foams.

Report co-author Oday Salim, a staff attorney for the federation, said PFAS contamination is a complex problem for the Great Lakes region that will require long-term, comprehensive solutions. He contended that states should be leading the charge.

"There are things the federal government can do to help," he said. "Some members of Congress have made this a priority and, for example, are looking to invest in monitoring. But even if Congress steps up, given the current EPA, we may be waiting a long time for action - and that action, when it comes, may not be protective enough."

At a U.S. House committee hearing on Tuesday, two major chemical manufacturers - DuPont de Nemours Inc. and The Chemours Co. - signaled support for policies that would clarify PFAS polluter liabilities and clean up contaminated sites. Congress is negotiating PFAS provisions to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act, but the Trump administration has indicated opposition to that idea.

The report is online at nwf.org/PFASreport, and Evers' Executive Order 40 is at evers.wi.gov.

Disclosure: National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - WI