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January 19, 2020

11/27/2019 7:29:00 AM
Mayor confirms second well taken out of service
Jamie Taylor and Heather Schaefer
of the River News

Another City of Rhinelander municipal well has been taken out of service due to PFAS contamination.

In an impromptu conference with local reporters following Monday's Rhinelander Common Council meeting, mayor Chris Frederickson confirmed Well 8 was taken offline last week on his orders.

"I talked to the department head on Friday morning, I talked to our lawyer (city attorney Steve Sorenson) as far as negative effects of shutting it down. There was none that posed any immediate risk by shutting it down, so I shut it down," he explained.

Another of the city's wells, 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,

fire fighting foam, and products that resist grease, water and oil. PFAS can persist in the environment and the human body for long periods of time, according to the DNR, and recent scientific findings indicate that exposure to certain PFAS may have harmful health effects in people. According to the EPA, exposure to some PFAS substances above certain levels may increase the risk of adverse health effects, such as thyroid disease, low birthweights and cancer.

The city did not immediately announce to its water customers that Well 8 had been taken out of service.

While Frederickson confirmed the move Monday, an official press release was not issued until Tuesday afternoon.

"Despite frequent attempts to receive guidance on acceptable pfhxs ratios, no clear direction could be obtained," the release explains. "During the last month I've been pressing the authorities above my office to give direction on pfhxs," the mayor said. "Instead, the Mayor looked to other state standards and did extensive research with the help of city staff to facilitate decision making to protect the interest of the citizens of Rhinelander," the release continues. "The result was a collaborated decision to set a very conservative standard that resulted in the decision to at least temporarily shut down Well 8 until more research can be done. On Monday of this week Frederickson, Sorenson and Water Department supervisor Jim Gossage conferred with the local and state representatives of the DNR, DHS and county Health Services. According to Frederickson, his decision was well received by those involved in the conference call. He indicated that DHS would be sending documentation supporting the decision.

"I will continue to work towards answering this problem with every resource available to me," concluded Frederickson.

"He was also quick to point out that the closure of the Well did not put the city's water supply at risk (and) that had been considered before closure was ordered," the release states. "The DNR water resources personnel confirmed this. City will be working with the DNR to look at potential new well sites if the need would require new wells."

Steven B. Elmore, program director of the DNR's Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater, said the DNR has been looking into the question of how taking Well 8 offline would affect the city's water supply.

"Would they have adequate capacity to serve water to Rhinelander?" is the question to be answered, according to Elmore. "And our take is they would until spring when they have higher demands due to tourists and everything else. This time of year, it (water demand) is pretty low."

If the city were to start seeking new locations to drill replacement wells for either 7, 8, or both, Elmore said that "is an involved process."

"There are some steps of it (the process) you could do in the winter, but that's something that we're going to have to work with them on," Elmore said. "There are several steps in the process. There's siting a well, usually drilling a test well where they drill a small hole and get some water quality (samples) from there, and then we have to approve the final well. It usually takes a few years, honestly, but depending on the situation, it can move faster."

The River News received a copy of the October test results for all city wells from Elmore Monday afternoon.

A story about the results, which Elmore referred to as "public information", will appear in a future edition.

In a Nov. 19 letter to the city, Elmore urged city officials to make all test results available to the public, suggesting posting them to the city website as the easiest way to accomplish this goal.

"All of this is voluntary, we don't have requirements for PFAS," he said. "But they (the city) did take samples at the entry point from the well, right when it is going out into the pipes into the distribution system. We have those results and they've also been taking some (samples) inside the distribution system."

Frederickson said Monday evening the city does intend to make all of those test results available to the public.

Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at

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