Pass the PFAS: Wisconsin communities grapple with ‘forever chemicals’ as state, federal officials stall regulation standards


Lee Donahue had been a town supervisor for the town of Campbell located on French Island for all of six months when news came to her that the town’s drinking water and groundwater had PFAS in it – forcing her to quickly get up to speed on the dangerous class of chemicals and what contamination meant for the island she’d called home for nearly 15 years.

PFAS, or Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a large class of chemical compounds, some of which have been linked to adverse health effects including decreased fertility, cancers, developmental delays in children, high cholesterol and more. Sometimes called “forever chemicals,” PFAS are found everywhere — from non-stick pans and fast food wrappers to dental floss and firefighting foams.

Though PFAS were first created in the 1930s, the extent to which these chemicals impact human and ecological health is still being researched.

For the Wisconsin residents of Campbell, the news of these unknown substances appearing in the water bodies surrounding the island they live on was devastating. Not only is water crucial to everyday tasks and life, Lee said residents have to think twice before swimming, fishing and gardening — activities integral to Wisconsin culture

Despite a growing body of research that indicates exposure to these chemicals can be harmful to the human body, the Environmental Protection Agency has not created official standards for state regulators to determine how much PFAS can safely be in drinking and groundwater — though the EPA has said they are in the process of creating them.

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The Badger Herald, 4-05-22