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Local governments, water utilities join industry groups in effort to slow state PFAS regulations
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Local governments, water utilities join industry groups in effort to slow state PFAS regulations

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As residents from across the state call for action, groups representing municipal governments, water utilities and industry are lining up against the latest efforts to regulate toxic “forever chemicals” in the state’s water supply.

The Department of Natural Resources is seeking approval of parameters for new rules that would limit the amount of certain fluorinated compounds — collectively known as PFAS — allowed in ground and drinking water.

In comments filed this month, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities and the Municipal Environmental Group urged the DNR’s policy board to reject or modify the scope of those proposed rules.

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The MEG Water Division, whose dozens of members include the Madison Water Utility, and the League, which represents almost 600 cities and villages, urged the board to wait until the Environmental Protection Agency sets federal standards, which could take another five years.

MEG argues federal standards would be better because the EPA method seeks to balance the health benefits with the cost of compliance.

The DNR needs approval from the Natural Resources Board to begin the 30-month process of writing new rules, which are ultimately subject to approval from the Legislature.

The NRB is set to consider the parameters Wednesday.

The agency is already in the process of crafting numerical limits for two of the most studied PFAS compounds — PFOA and PFOS — based on recommendations from the Department of Health Services.

The new regulations would address 16 additional PFAS compounds, as well as six pesticides, that DHS last year said pose a threat to public health.

One rule relates to groundwater, the other to public drinking water systems. The groundwater standards would also include six new pesticides.

Drinking water standards would apply to municipal water systems as well as apartment buildings, mobile home parks and businesses with at least 25 employees and would require annual testing as well as steps to remove the contaminants. The DNR estimates the total cost of compliance will be more than $10 million every two years.

Groundwater standards would allow the DNR to identify sources of contamination and go after polluters.

WMC, along with the American Chemistry Council and Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, question the science that DHS used to determine the recommended standards as well as the DNR’s cost estimates and ask that the agency consider changes “when presented with economic and scientific data from the regulated community and the public.”

In the absence of federal standards, DHS sets recommended limits based on published toxicity studies.

The DNR received dozens of comments in support of the rules, many from residents of communities like Marinette, Peshtigo and La Crosse, where PFAS has contaminated drinking water.

“Over time, more communities will be found with PFAS contamination,” wrote Cassandra Hanan, who as clerk for the Town of Campbell has been struggling to help residents deal with tainted wells. “Now is the time to ensure that standards are set into place.”

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