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DNR: Most PFAS contamination will be state cleanups

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(The Center Square) – The Wisconsin DNR says new federal PFAS rules won’t change much for a cleanup in the state.

The Department of Natural Resources said it is evaluating the new federal rules on PFAS pollution. Those rules declared two PFAS chemicals as “hazardous substances” under the federal Superfund program.

“PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid), two PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) compounds, now become two of more than 800 contaminants regulated under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act,” the DNR said in a statement. “The EPA’s designation provides additional tools and resources to communities burdened by PFAS contamination.”

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act is the official name for the Superfund.

The Superfund allows states to tap into federal dollars to help clean those areas.

But the DNR says just two places in Wisconsin could qualify for the Superfund, the rest the DNR says, would fall under Wisconsin’s jurisdiction.

“The vast majority of contamination sites in Wisconsin are addressed under state authority rather than this federal law,” the DNR’s Bureau for Remediation and Redevelopment Director Christine Sieger said. “For the limited group of sites that are in the Superfund program, the federal program is important. Two sites in Wisconsin are in the early stages of evaluation for Superfund status based upon contamination.”

The town of Peshtigo in northeastern Wisconsin is one of those sites. Local leaders there have been struggling with PFAS contamination they blame on the nearby Johnson Controls plant that made firefighting foam. Earlier this month, Johnson Controls agreed to a $750 million settlement with Peshtigo and other communities over the high PFAS levels in their water.

The DNR says the town of Stella in Oneida County is the other community. Private wells in Stella have some of the highest PFAS levels in the state. The DNR believes those chemicals may have come from a nearby paper mill in Rhinelander.

The U.S. EPA said it intends to use the new PFAS rules to focus on enforcement and holding PFAS polluters accountable.

“Designating these chemicals under our Superfund authority will allow EPA to address more contaminated sites, take earlier action, and expedite cleanups, all while ensuring polluters pay for the costs to clean up pollution threatening the health of communities,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

Enforcement and holding PFAS polluters accountable remains an issue in Wisconsin.

Gov. Tony Evers and Republicans lawmakers continue to disagree over how to do that. The governor this month vetoed legislation that would have spent $125 million to clean up PFAS contamination because he said the legislation would not have punished polluters.

Republican lawmakers say the governor wants to go after anyone who finds PFAS chemicals on their land or in their water.

“The DNR is evaluating the EPA’s new rule and policy in advance of its implementation this summer,” DNR’s Environmental Management Division Administrator Jim Zellmer said Friday.

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