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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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August 14, 2022

12/9/2019 3:35:00 PM
Mayor releases DHS letter supporting closure of Well 8
Fish samples taken from the Wisconsin River

Rhinelander mayor Chris Frederickson has released a letter from the state Department of Health Services supporting his late November decision to take municipal well 8 out of service due to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination.

"Drinking water samples were collected from the Municipal Well 8 on Oct. 2, 2019 and analyzed for PFAS. Among the PFAS detected, perfluorohexanesulfonic (PFHxS) was found at a level higher than most of the health-based values established in other states. Therefore, DHS supports the city's decision on shutting down the well to protect the public health from PFHxS exposure until this issue can be further resolved," wrote Clara Jeong, a toxicologist with the Division of Public Health. "Additionally, DHS recommends continued monitoring when PFAS are detected in water even if levels of PFOA and PFOS are below the recommended groundwater standards of 20 ppt to adequately ensure protection of public health."

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.

Well 8 is the second city well to be taken out of service in the last six months.

Another of the city's wells, Well 7, was taken out of service June 24 after test results collected in May showed signs of PFAS contamination.

Following the Nov. 25 City Council meeting, Frederickson confirmed he had made the decision to also take Well 8 offline.

"I talked to the department head on Friday morning (Nov. 22), I talked to our lawyer (city attorney Steve Sorenson) as far as negative effects of shutting it down," he told local media in an impromptu post-meeting press gathering. "There was none that posed any immediate risk by shutting it down, so I shut it down."

On Nov. 26, Frederickson issued a press release further explaining the decision.

"Despite frequent attempts to receive guidance on acceptable pfhxs ratios, no clear direction could be obtained," Frederickson said in the press release. "During the last month I've been pressing the authorities above my office to give direction on pfhxs."

Instead, Frederickson said he 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 continued.

"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," the release said.

The release also noted that Frederickson's decision was "well received" by state officials and stated that DHS would be sending documentation supporting the decision.

Jeong's letter is the supporting documentation.

A full copy of the letter can be found on the city of Rhinelander website,

"We currently don't have a standard for PFHxS, however, we wanted to provide the most recent scientific information that can kind of guide us to make a health-based accommodation for guidance, as well," Jeong said in a phone interview Monday morning. "Those were the explanations about what we know about PFHxS, and what are the levels based on other states."

Jeong said the science on all variations of the PFAS family of chemicals is still evolving.

"We are also in the process of reviewing PFHxS," as well," she said.

Jeong said members of her department, the DNR, the Oneida County Health Department and the city met just before the well was taken offline to discuss the situation.

She noted that Frederickson appreciated having some supporting science to help make the decision to take the well offline.

Jeong's letter also addresses the question of whether PFAS are present in fish caught from the Wisconsin River near Rhinelander.

"Eating fish containing elevated levels of PFAS is a potential human health concern," the letter states. "DNR collected fish samples from the Wisconsin River below Rhinelander this past summer and we are waiting for results from the lab. As such, we cannot say if PFAS are present in fish in this area at levels of concern at this time. Current fish consumption advisories are in place to protect from mercury and other contaminants. People should continue to follow these advisories as we learn more. Once these fish testing results are available, DHS will work with DNR to evaluate whether an advisory is necessary."

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