A group of citizens assembled by Rhinelander mayor Chris Frederickson to advise him on issues related to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) discovered last year in two municipal wells will hold an online forum today, May 5, where several experts will provide information.
Water Action Team Rhinelander (WATR) will hold the forum via the web meeting software Zoom starting at 2 p.m., according to a press release issued late last week.
PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, some firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water and oil.
Some, but not all, studies in humans with PFAS exposure have shown that certain PFAS may:
Increase cholesterol levels
Decrease how well the body responds to vaccines
Increase the risk of thyroid disease
Decrease fertility in women
Lower infant birth weights.
PFAS have been a hot topic in the Rhinelander area since last July when it was announced that municipal well 7, which is located near the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport, had been taken offline after levels of PFAS were found above the EPA's health advisory (70ng/L) and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) recommended groundwater standard level (20 ng/L).
In November, municipal well 8, which is also located on the southwest end of the airport property, was also taken offline.
The health department also issued a "do not drink" advisory for Crescent Spring due to PFAS contamination.
In December, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources sent the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport, the city of Rhinelander and Oneida County a "responsible party" letter identifying the airport's aqueous fire fighting foam (AFFF) as the probable cause of the contamination.
The airport commission voted to hire the environmental consulting firm of Mead and Hunt to assist in meeting the various requirements set forth in the responsibility letter.
In a Feb. 6 letter to the DNR, Husch Blackwell, a law firm acting on behalf of the city, county and airport, argued it was not the AFFF stored at the airport that contaminated the wells.
"The Airport has never utilized AFFF in response to an aircraft emergency, or to fight an actual fire. The Airport does conduct FAA-required annual tests of its AFFF but does so in a very limited and controlled fashion. Current practice is to slowly release a small amount of AFFF into a five gallon pail for testing of dilution strength," the letter states. "The Airport has already provided photographs of the totes that are used to store AFFF utilized after testing and prior to proper off site disposal. Furthermore, this testing is conducted in an area that is well removed from, and down gradient of the two municipal wells."
"Given the very limited quantities of AFFF utilized in testing and the containment procedures utilized, and in light of the location of this testing, there is no reason to believe that any of these materials would have migrated upstream to the ... well locations," it continued.
In the letter, attorney Richard Lewandowski goes on to request the DNR "define and identify the source of the PFAS" that contaminated the two wells "before requiring further investigation and remediation by the three units of government."
"We make this request for several important reasons," the letter states. "First, the Department's apparent assumption that use of AFFF at the Airport must be the source of these results is incorrect, for the reasons explained above and in our January 22, 2020 letter to you. Second, all three units of local government have limited resources and personnel. The burden of tracking down the likely source of what has been found in the ...wells would fall disproportionately on them. Finally, with no obvious source, and given the extremely low levels of PFAS components that have been found, we are hard-pressed to understand what kind remedial work might be appropriate."
In a phone interview last week, DNR Northern Region Remediation and Redevelopment program supervisor Chris Saari Saari said the DNR had hoped to schedule a meeting with all parties "to try to chart a path forward," however travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have thus far made that impossible.
In the meantime, the city and WATR have organized a virtual forum.
According to the press release, those expected to participate in the informational forum include R.T. Krueger, president of Northern Lake Service laboratory in Crandon, Clara Jeong, Ph.D., toxicologist with the Bureau of Occupational and Environmental Health, Wisconsin Division of Public Health, Jim Tinjum, Ph.D., associate professor and Director of the Geological Engineering Program, University of Wisconsin, Todd Troskey, BS, RS, environmental health specialist at Oneida County Health Department, James Yach, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary's Director for Northern Wisconsin and Saari.
"One of the things they (Frederickson and Yach) had talked about was having some kind of forum, and this virtual forum is the result," Saari said. "I think this was originally intended to be an in-person event."
Saari said the people announced to be taking part "is a pretty good list."
"With all of those different people on board, we should be able to get some good information out to the public," he said.
To attend the online form go to https://tinyurl.com/WATR-Forum.
If a password is requested, enter 456115.
The forum will be hosted by University of Wisconsin Extension - Oneida County Community Development Senior Specialist, Myles Alexander.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernews online.com.
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