Wisconsin PFAS standards: Evers lashes out at conservatives

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers lashed out Thursday at conservative members of the Department of Natural Resources policy board for refusing to set limits on a group of chemicals known as PFAS in Wisconsin's groundwater.

The board in February adopted limits for drinking water and surface water but rejected the DNR's recommendations to impose a 20 parts per trillion limit for groundwater after conservative board members voiced concerns about the cost of replacing or remediating wells with contamination that exceeds that benchmark.

Evers told the audience at a Wispolitics.com luncheon in Madison that the "wrong people" are on the board and the panel should have been able to adopt groundwater limits more quickly and transparently. Under Wisconsin's regulation-making statutes, it could be three more years before the DNR brings groundwater restrictions to the board again.

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"The longer we wait to set standards, the more it's going to cost and more people are going to be harmed health-wise," the governor said. "That's not an anti-business piece of advice. It's just the truth ... it could take three more years, at minimum, to create standards for PFAS while French Island is sitting there saying, ‘How long do I have to drink Culligan's water?' It's just not right."

PFAS, an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, were developed as coatings to protect consumer goods from stains, water and corrosion. They are in a variety of products from cookware to firefighting foam. The chemicals don't break down in nature; research suggests they can cause liver problems, lower birth weights and increased risk of high blood pressure and cancer.

A number of Wisconsin municipalities have been grappling with PFAS in their drinking water, including Madison, Marinette, the town of Campbell on French Island just outside La Crosse, Peshtigo and Wausau.

The DNR policy board's chairman, Greg Kazmierski, said the department's recommendation for groundwater limits included a host of other compounds besides PFAS. He said that was an "overreach" and if the proposal had been limited to PFAS the restrictions would have been adopted.

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