And here at home in Dane County
A new report from the Environmental Working Group shows that a group of toxic fluorinated chemicals or “PFAS” have been detected at more than 1300 sites, in 49 states, putting more than 100 million (two-thirds of the US population) at risk of drinking contaminated water, this according to a story in the November 8, 2019 issue of Our Daily Planet, daily email alert.
The EWG report includes an interactive map of the US where PFAS have been detected by local, state, and federal officials. Click on a dot, say Madison, WI and one finds this report from the Madison Water Utility.
Widespread Contamination and Cause for Concern
The breadth and scope of PFAS contamination is alarming and truly makes one not want to drink tap water anywhere in America. Especially in Michigan.
The existence of PFAS in the Madison, WI drinking water supply is not news. Since 2015 PFAS have been an issue. All summer and fall of 2019 the Wisconsin State Journal and the Midwest Environmental Justice Organization (MEJO) have been tracking the issue, pushing regulators, and bringing it to the public’s attention.
What are PFAS? From the Environmental Working Group there is this description:
- PFAS compounds are a class of non-stick, waterproof, stain-resistant compounds used in consumer products and industry. Best known are PFOS, formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOA, formerly in 3M’s Scotchgard.
- Very low exposure to some PFAS chemicals has been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened childhood immunity and many other health problems.
- Tests of tap water, military bases and industrial sites have found PFAS contamination in more than 712 locations in 49 states. Drinking water for up to 110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS.
In 2019, the Madison Water Utility found “trace” and “low” levels of PFAS in 14 City of Madison wells out of 23 total drinking water wells. Click here for the story from the Wisconsin State Journal.
The Madison Water Utility has been aware of the PFAS issue and has been testing city wells since 2015. In 2017 they stepped up their testing program, “using methods that were more sensitive after new studies showed there may be health effects at lower levels than the reporting limits established by the EPA.”, Madison Water Utility report.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has published a list of sites in Wisconsin with detected amounts of PFAS compounds. Click here to view the list.
Where and How Are These Chemicals Used?
PFAS are used in literally hundreds of consumer products; think waterproof, fire retardant, non-stick, and stain-resistant products.
PFAS are also used in firefighting foam, a product used by fire departments, on military bases, and perhaps by wild land fire fighters, and restoration ecologists who may use it to mop up smoldering, and hard-to-extinguish-with-water wood.
In Madison, Wisconsin, PFAS use is concentrated at Truax Field which houses the Wisconsin Air National Guard, which is near the Dane County Regional Airport. PFAS have also been found in the urban stream, Starkweather Creek, whose headwaters are near Truax Field and the airport. The interactive map shows that PFAS have been found at many military bases across the country.
Why Should You Care
For one, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not regulate this group of chemicals, which are said to never break down. Once in the water supply they persist.
Once consumed by humans or other organisms, the PFAS chemicals build up in blood and organs. They “have been linked to many serious health problems such as an increased risk of cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, liver and thyroid disease.” ( Our Daily Planet Nov. 8, 2019).
Nonetheless, the US Congress will not agree on legislation to force the EPA to regulate PFAS and limit their use and the spread of their contamination.