Environmental group urges further testing of water, fish after report shows PFAS in Lake Monona

PFAS came from firefighting foam used on July fire

From the moment firefighting efforts began on the massive transformer fire in July, the Wisconsin DNR was keeping track of long term environmental impacts firefighting foam would have.

Now data showing various levels of PFAS in our storm water and ultimately Lake Monona is concerning people like Maria Powell, the executive director for the Midwest Environmental Justice Organization.

“The science is telling us these levels are concerning,” she said.

Lake Monona on a stormy day.� Today we learned PFAS from firefighting foam used to contain the July MG&E transformer fire has made its way here&to our storm water system, in places testing higher than 20ppt. We’re told @WDNR is planning remediation and further testing. #News3Now pic.twitter.com/5EGg2wDM56

— Amy Reid (@amyreidreports) September 27, 2019

She works with people who fish along the banks of Lake Monona and depend on that fish for food.

She said the PFAS levels, in some parts higher than a proposed groundwater standard of 20 parts per trillion, should be looked into more.

“There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of studies now on PFAS compounds,” Powell said. “There are scientists out there are Harvard, in the federal government, who are saying even that the 20 parts per trillion standard, it should be way lower. It should be one.”

She said even levels in water as low as 10 parts per trillion could result in levels closer to 1,000 parts per trillion in fish, and it could pose a danger to other animals as well. While she waits for the Wisconsin DNR to test for PFAS levels in fish, she cautions people who would feed the fish to children or pregnant women, the most vulnerable to getting sick from the chemicals, to be careful.

“It’s almost as much what we don’t know as what we do know,” Powell said. “What we do know is concerning. What we don’t know is a lot, and in order to protect people we need to do a lot more investigation.”

Amy Barrilleaux with the Madison Water Utility said the threat to our drinking water is much lower, at least for now.

“What people should understand about our system, is our wells are cased very deeply in the ground,” she said. “It takes a long time for any kind of surface contaminant to make it into our wells.”

Barrilleaux said this situation was taken seriously from the beginning, and the Wisconsin DNR is still doing remediation and testing to keep future PFAS contamination from happening. The Wisconsin DNR did not immediately return a request for comment on specifics.

“We’re going to find that level that may or may not be in the groundwater, then we might have some better knowledge,” Barrilleaux said.

Editor’s note: A previous version incorrectly stated Powell is waiting for Public Health Madison & Dane County to test fish, however the Wisconsin DNR is responsible for such tests.

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