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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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August 14, 2022

11/8/2019 4:28:00 PM
Guild updates city residents on well testing
Lab owner concerned about administrator's interpretation of test results
Heather Schaefer
Associate Editor

Rhinelander water utility customers will have to decide for themselves how to respond to a recent update from Rhinelander city administrator Daniel Guild regarding the quality of the municipal water supply as well as subsequent pushback from the president of the lab that tested the water suggesting Guild may have misinterpreted the results.

In a notice to water utility customers posted to the City Hall Facebook page at 11:32 p.m. Nov. 5, Guild reported there have been "no repeated detections of the previous PFAS chemicals first sampled in May 2019."

Municipal Well 7 was taken out of service June 24 after test results collected in May showed signs of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, firefighting foam, and products that resist grease, water and oil.

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to higher cholesterol, lower female fertility, lower infant birth weights, and other health risks, according to public health experts.

The city sent out a health advisory in July explaining that water from Well 7 had tested above the EPA's health advisory (70ng/L) and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) recommended groundwater standard level (20 ng/L), and thus the well was taken offline.

That well remains offline, according to Guild's Nov. 5 statement.

The notice goes on to list the steps city officials took in response to the PFAS contamination issue, including additional testing and the creation of an online Facebook group called Rhinelander Water Quality "to engage with customers and have discussions with consumers regarding this issue."

It also notes that recent positive reports pertaining to the water quality issue "will not cause our vigilance on this issue to subside."

"We will continue monitoring and reporting on this issue as necessary and appropriate," Guild wrote.

Guild's notice to water customers also includes a paragraph in which he appears to suggest that the May test results may have been inaccurate and that the original sample could have been contaminated.

"I am happy to report to you that we have had no repeated detections of the previous PFAS chemicals first sampled in May of 2019," Guild wrote. "This has raised several questions about the both the accuracy and veracity of the original sample which the detect was previously discovered. Remember these detections were incredibly small, in the range of trillioneths, making sample contamination a theoritical (sic) possibility."

In an interview with the River News Thursday, R.T. Krueger, the president and CEO of Northern Lake Service, Inc., the lab that tested the city water samples, expressed concern about Guild's interpretation of the results.

When asked to respond to Guild's statement that questions have been raised regarding "both the accuracy and veracity of the original sample," Krueger stated the city "made no contact with us regarding checking into this."

Later he added, "If those questions do exist they were not presented to me" and "I have not been asked if there was a problem on our end."

Any assertion that the original sample may have been contaminated, or the analysis somehow flawed, is unfounded, Krueger continued.

"From our end, there is absolutely no indication that there were any problems with the sample collection or the analytical," he said. Later, he added, "I have indicated to him (Guild) that I am not sure where those assertions (in the notice to customers) came from because there is nothing on our end to indicate that that's the case."

In response to an inquiry regarding how the water samples were collected and who was responsible for that aspect of the process, Krueger stressed that his firm analyzed the samples but did not collect them.

"We did not sample," he said. "We did the analytical work."

Since learning about Guild's notice to customers, Krueger stated he has had some "email communication" with the administrator that was copied to Mayor Chris Frederickson. When asked to characterize the city's response to this email communication, Krueger would only repeat "we have communicated."

Krueger also noted that the company, founded by his parents in 1974, has a "40-year track record of being a partner with the city" with respect to water testing, however this particular experience has been quite unusual.

"I'm not used to being in this position because normally when I'm working with a municipality they are very open with potential public health issues," he said. "I'm not used to this. It puts me in a very strange position, but I can assure you, and I definitely want the people of Rhinelander to understand, that my priority is public health."

When asked if he can offer any guidance to Rhinelander water customers, Krueger carefully explained that it is not his place to offer such advice.

"That is not my role. That is definitely not my role," he said. "My role is not at all to instruct them what to do with their system, it's not to speculate on any causes of any issues. It's to provide the data and if the data is being, I believe, misinterpreted or incompletely interpreted, then I'm helping, whether they want it or not, to interpret that data. I think it's the responsibility of the regulators to do those other things."

In response to Guild's description of the detections in Well 7 as "incredibly small in the range of trillioneths," Krueger offered the following statement. "I would take the opportunity to say that while those are very, very low levels, as a lab we're very confident in our ability to measure the levels as they were reported and appropriately qualified."

Throughout the interview, Krueger stressed that virtually everything associated with the testing and regulation of water with respect to PFAS is extremely complex and thus it's essential that everyone involved in these matters act with the utmost care.

"I understand how incredibly complicated this is from a scientific and regulatory standpoint, but because of that everybody has to be even more careful than usual and understand that this is extremely complex, it's a multi-headed monster," he said. "We have to be very, very careful with our assumptions..."

According to the company website, the lab's staff consists of 35 "seasoned analysts, technicians, and support staff whose average tenure with the company is more than ten years."

A section of the website entitled "trusted results," includes the following: "Quality is not a term we use loosely. Our dedicated team of analysts is some of the brightest and hardest working in the industry. Quality is just not a term we use loosely, it is a fundamental part of everything we do. From sample receipt to final results, our staff follows rigorous internal control processes to ensure that the data you receive will help you make well-informed decisions. When lab results are used to make decisions that not only impact the environment but also people's health, you can rest assured that the data you are using is the most reliable in the industry. NLS fosters a culture of continuous improvement in order to provide more cost-effective and meaningful information to our clients. We diligently research future applications and expand our breadth of services to stay aligned with clients' needs."

The River News asked Guild for a response to Krueger's statements. He did not respond prior to press time for this edition. A copy of our list of questions was also sent to the mayor and the City Council.

River News reporter Jamie Taylor contributed to this report.

Heather Schaefer may be reached at heather

Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, November 11, 2019
Article comment by: Dan Butkus

Guild makes sweeping statements as to the veracity of the test results and we're to believe him? Well, if anyone in the city or county had once ounce of science and math skills, they'd have found the same thing I did looking at the 5 test results obtained over 6 months for Well #7. The data had a pattern. So I plotted the test results. The graph of ppt PFAS vs time is a typical decay curve for a point source contamination being flushed from a system. You don't get a decay curve from randomly erroneous test results. But instead of taking the initiative to look at the data, Guild denigrates a lab that's been trusted for 40 years to provide reputable analytical data to communities across the country.

WXPR reported last week that Well #8 by the airport now suddenly tested positive for PFAS compounds at 90 ppt. But Guild dismisses this and keeps the well online. Instead of dismissing the data as erroneous, how about investigating why another well tests positive when the first well's contamination dissipated so quickly. And investigate why NO ONE bothered to graph the data and analyze trends, instead of treating them like unrelated bits of information. Talk about incompetent.

BTW - Did anyone think to test Crescent Springs for follow-up, like they had for Well #7?

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