Open house on PFAS probe at Madison College Jan 11

Wisconsin State Journal
Wednesday, December 29, 2021
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​​​​Open house on PFAS probe set for next month

LUCAS ROBINSON & Chris Hubbuch

Officials with the National Guard and Dane County Regional Airport will update residents next month on an investigation into the presence of so-called “forever chemicals” on airport grounds that have contaminated Madison’s lakes and streams, the Air National Guard said Tuesday.

The open house will detail the status of an investigation into the site announced by the National Guard last September, a process that could delay actual cleanup for another 12 years. The open house, hosted by the Air National Guard and the 115th Fighter Wing, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 11 at Madison Area Technical College’s Mitby Theatre, 3550 Anderson St.

Residents will be able to pose questions to officials before the event and after a panel discussion featuring representatives from the National Guard Bureau and EA Engineering, said Capt. Leslie Westmont, a spokesperson for the 115th Fighter Wing. Written comments regarding the site’s evaluation will also be accepted for 30 days after the event, Westmont said.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has​ ​contended that the 115th Fighter Wing is legally liable for cleanup of the group of synthetic compounds known as PFAS, which are associated with firefighting foam.

The chemicals, linked with diseases including cancer, have been found in a municipal well about a mile from the airport, as well as in Starkweather Creek and Lake Monona, which are now under fish consumption advisories.

Madison, Dane County and the Wisconsin National Guard are tasked with investigation and cleanup of suspected contamination at two former training areas, with all three locked in a slow-rolling back-and-forth over how to handle that responsibility.

While Madison and Dane County have sought to assign the blame to the National Guard, state environmental regulators have noted that Madison provided firefighting services to Truax Field and owned a “burn pit” site where firefighters trained with PFAS foam.

The National Guard’s investigation into the site is governed by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA, which allows the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up contamination. Under CERCLA, the investigation of the site is expected to last four years. Following an investigation, a feasibility study will determine possible options for cleanup of the site. That phase is also expected to last four years.

The EPA has said drinking water is safe with PFOS and PFOA concentrations up to 70 parts per trillion, though new agency documents suggest that level should be just 1 ppt. The DNR is finalizing rules that would set drinking and groundwater standards at 20 ppt, in line with the recommendations of state health officials.

Groundwater samples from Truax Field have shown​ ​PFOS alone at concentrations reaching 48,000 ppt.

Last month, state water utilities and local municipalities urged the the DNR to forgo plans to limit the amount of chemicals like PFAS allowed in drinking and surface water. They argued that the DNR should await updated EPA rules, although those rules are not expected to be put into place until 2026.

New DNR rules would set that level at 20 ppt, putting it in line with the recommendation by state health officials. Some environmental groups argue it should be just 1 ppt.

State Journal reporter Chris Hubbuch contributed to this report.