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Is your water safe? Leaders addressing PFAS contamination

Community members, lawmakers and other leaders are meeting in Green Bay Friday to discuss Senate Bill 312 and PFAS contamination in Wisconsin's groundwater.
Water Surface
Posted at 7:22 AM, Oct 26, 2023

GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — A large plume of toxic chemicals—used to making fire-fighting foam—has made its way to the bay of Green Bay, and leaders are meeting Friday at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to discuss the best ways to keep it from spreading, protect landowners from costly remediation and keep people safe.

The Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin is hosting the conference, and you're invited to learn more and ask questions about forever chemicals—known as PFAS.

"We're all affected by this. We've already been contaminated. This is not new to our bodies. Our bodies have seen it first," Clean Water Student Action Council Intern Rachel Weber said.

Weber says lawmakers, medical experts and community members are all coming together to have a conversation about the problem and the best way to prevent PFAS from spreading into nearby waterways and groundwater. That includes the most effective way to help land owners remediate the chemicals from their property.

PFAS contamination can affect everything from your immune system to kidney function.

"I think that this conference is going to help them be educated about what they can do in the immediate and also what they can do going forward—how they can speak to their legislators. They will be able to participate with the local legislators we are lucky enough to have come, and you'll be able to directly talk with them about your concerns," Weber said.

Republican State Senator Eric Wimberger is one of those lawmakers planning to attend. He represents District 30. That area was directly affected by PFAS contamination from decades of Tyco in Marinette testing fire-fighting foam that eventually ended up in the soil and ground water. After the discovery earlier this year, the state senator helped draft Senate Bill 312.

"The idea with this bill is to just help innocent land owners to help get clean water in a municipality, to help people remediate their wells, and to not get involved in litigation," State Senator Wimberger said.

But lawmakers remain divided on the Department of Natural Resources' ability to test the soil and groundwater.That issue is not sitting right with many clean water advocates and members of the Democratic party.

"We need bi-partisan passage of these bills, and right now it's so divided within our House and within our Senate that until people come together—even in settings like this—they're not going to push and hear our concerns," said Clean Water Action Council Administrative Assistant Gracyn Holcomb.

Despite the opposition, State Senator Wimberger says he's looking forward to discussing Senate Bill 312 on Friday.

He says the measure would protect landowners from costly remediation, because he says as the law currently stands, allowing the DNR to test the soil and groundwater comes at the property owner's cost—no matter how the ground or water became contaminated.

"If you are an innocent landowner then you are not going to be required to test at your own expense as long as you let the DNR go in and do what they need to do for remediation and for testing, and that would be the only restriction put on the DNR," State Senator Wimberger said.

That conference gets underway at 8 a.m. Friday and goes until 2:30 p.m. at the UWGB University Union.

We reached out to Governor Tony Evers' office to see where he stands on the issue and whether he'll sign the measure into law if it reaches his desk.

The Governor's Communications Director said in part quote, "Ensuring every Wisconsinite has access to clean, safe drinking water should transcend politics and partisanship, so it's disappointing that Republicans aren't interested in doing the right thing and working together toward that important goal."

Please stay with NBC 26 on air and online as we continue to follow Senate Bill 312 at the state capital.