According to Sarah Godlewski, Wisconsin Treasurer and Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, the government and companies responsible for PFAS contamination in the state and nation must help fund solutions.
She made that clear during a meeting with leaders on the French island on Monday afternoon, where she heard about the PFAS crisis that has contaminated hundreds of wells with the toxic “eternal chemicals” that do not break down over time.
On the island, which falls under the jurisdiction of the town of Campbell, more than 500 wells contain some level of PFAS. Many residents now rely on bottled water for most of their water needs and the pollution is believed to originate at least in part from La Crosse Regional Airport, which is owned by the City of La Crosse.
Earlier Monday, Godlewski unveiled her political plan to tackle drinking water in the state, where she calls for a federal ban on PFAS. Additionally, it calls for a national standard for PFAS chemicals in drinking water (currently a patchwork of standards from state to state) as well as the inclusion of PFAS on the list of EPA Hazardous Substances.
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“It’s high time there was a nationwide ban on PFAS,” La Crosse County Council Supervisor Margaret Larson said of the plan.
Godlewski said it was clear to her that the state was handing over the PFAS issue and it was time for the federal government to do its part.
Much of Godlewski’s plan to fight PFAS works on prevention, but for the hundreds of residents on French Island and elsewhere in the state, there’s also the question of how to get PFAS back. ‘potable water.
Godlewski said funding for any cleanup or remediation of existing pollution should be the responsibility of both the government and the companies responsible for the PFAS chemicals.
“I think we need to first and foremost hold the companies accountable. PFAS are man-made chemicals and we need to look at these companies and really think about exactly how they help clean up these eternal chemicals. ?” said Godlewsky.
She added that the federal government needs to invest in exactly how the cleanup might be possible. “We know there is currently no truly clean way to clean up PFAS, so how exactly can we invest to ensure we have the resources and the human capital to be able to do this?” she says.
These are some of the same things the leaders of the French islands demanded on Monday.
The small group said corporations and lobbyists have too much power over what kind of help is offered and how quickly it arrives, even in the state.
Last week, a Waukesha County judge sided with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Traders and an Oconomowoc-based dry cleaner, who argued that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources failed to the power to require companies to help clean up PFAS until the state establishes a standard against chemicals.
“The first thought is about dollars, not human health,” Larson said.
And if PFAS contaminations are left untreated, Godlewski said, it could harm exports and businesses in Wisconsin, a state whose economy relies heavily on its natural resources.
Such an impact is being felt in other parts of the country, such as Maine, where widespread PFAS contaminations throughout its agricultural industry are leading to the cessation of sales, loss of customers and, in some cases, the closure of farms.
“We’re drinking from that,” Godlewski said, “We’re going to start seeing it in the livestock, in the crops, and people are going to say, we don’t want to work with Wisconsin, because everything’s contaminated,” she says. .
Campbell Town Supervisor Lee Donahue called for more funding for research on how to break down chemicals, especially in La Crosse where there are three higher education entities with PFASs in their backyards. -yard waiting to be studied.
She said there is preliminary research on how to break down “eternal chemicals”, such as in Alaska, where a group is developing a machine that breaks down the chemical compound PFAS. And at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Donahue said, research is also being done on a microbe that can slowly break down chemicals, though this process likely won’t have an impact for generations.
“Wisconsin kind of got put on the map recently because of our PFAS contamination, but how do you pivot that? How do you say, OK, we have a problem but we’re determined to find the answer,” Donahue said. “We could become the national leader in PFAS remediation and help other states.”
Godlewski agreed, saying it would build on Wisconsin’s idea.
During his roughly hour-long meeting, Godlewski heard from leaders who are working on the ground daily to fix the problem that will likely cost tens of millions of dollars to fix.
They shared the daily struggle the island faces. They can’t grow vegetables in their backyard and the trees are dying. New moms worry about breastfeeding their babies or using their water to mix formula, and even bathing their newborns. Many residents have cancer diagnoses that they believe may be linked to the PFAS they have been unknowingly consuming for decades. People don’t want to buy houses on the island. Some seriously ill residents are being advised by their doctors not to even shower with water from their well.
All the while, the solutions seem expensive and complex.
In the meantime, intermediate fixes such as home filtration systems display their own issues, such as how to dispose of the filter.
Local officials said there are currently no regulations on how to dispose of the filters, although Larson said the La Crosse County landfill will not accept them. This leaves residents with options that may cause ripple contamination.
“We can’t keep revamping PFAS,” Donahue said. “We can’t just move it from here to here and say, ‘Oh, we solved the problem. “”
In photos: The Great River Road in Wisconsin and Minnesota