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Frequently Asked Questions

PFAS contamination in the Marinette and Peshtigo area

PFAS contamination has been detected in the Marinette and Peshtigo areas in soil, sediment, groundwater, surface water, private drinking water wells and biosolids. Answers to questions being asked of DNR staff are posted on this page, which will be updated regularly. Additional information is available on the main Marinette/Peshtigo area page.

Public Involvement

How will the public be kept informed? Where can I find the most recent information?

The DNR will update the PFAS contamination in the Marinette and Peshtigo area webpage and this FAQ page regularly as more information becomes available.

Sign up for GovDelivery to be notified when updates to these pages have been made and when public meetings will be held.

DNR's online database BRRTS on the Web (BOTW) is updated with site-specific investigation information, including the case files for the following sites:

In addition, check the following websites for updates:

I am a proponent for legislators reviewing Wisconsin's solid waste disposal program for amending it to make special consideration for products containing PFAS ending up in our landfills and likely in the smallest way contributing to contamination. Do you see this as a viable action going forward to reduce PFAS contamination?

The city of Marinette, city of Peshtigo and town of Peshtigo residents should feel free to contact their elected representatives to voice their concerns regarding PFAS impacts on human health and the environment.

PFAS Basics

What are PFAS?

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of human-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1940s. Their ability to repel water and oil and withstand high temperatures has made PFAS a particularly useful ingredient in industrial and commercial products, including non-stick products, stain- and water-repellent clothing and fire-fighting foams. These chemicals do not easily break down in the environment and have been known to accumulate in the environment and humans. In a nationwide study, low levels of PFAS were determined to be present in the blood of most Americans. Two PFAS, perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), are the most extensively studied of these chemicals.

The acronym PFC has been used to describe PFAS in the past. This acronym is no longer used to describe per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances because it is used to describe perfluorocarbons (i.e., refrigerants), which are a different family of chemicals.

For additional information, please see our main PFAS page.

What is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) role? Is the EPA aware of the situation?

The EPA is aware of the situation. In fact, in 2018, the EPA asked JCI to sample for PFAS at the 1 Stanton Street site. However, the Wisconsin DNR is the lead agency at both the Fire Technology Center (FTC) and the Stanton Street Campus.

Are PFAS regulated by the federal or state government?

Currently, there is limited regulatory authority of PFAS at the federal level. In 2016, the EPA issued a non-enforceable Lifetime Health Advisory level for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) in drinking water. Presently, PFAS is not a hazardous substance subject to the federal Superfund cleanup law or a hazardous waste subject to federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste treatment, disposal or storage requirements.

The state DNR currently has the authority to require that persons who cause hazardous substance discharges of PFAS or environmental pollution to take action to protect human health and the environment under Chapter 292, Wisconsin Statutes.

DNR's Water Quality Program has the authority to regulate discharges to surface water on a site-by-site basis in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act. Solid waste containing PFAS must be managed in accordance with state law.

With respect to groundwater, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has recommended a groundwater standard of 20 ppt, which is a combined standard for PFOS and PFOA. In order for that recommended standard to be implemented as law, the groundwater standard will need to go through the state's formal rulemaking process. Until that time, persons undertaking groundwater cleanups of PFAS contamination are required to work with DNR and DHS to establish a site-specific cleanup standard.

For more information, visit NR 140 groundwater quality standards update.

What role are local authorities (i.e., city of Marinette, town of Peshtigo) playing in the investigation?

The cities of Peshtigo and Marinette, the town of Peshtigo and Marinette County have been kept informed of investigative activities. The DNR has worked with the cities and the town on evaluating the sampling results of their drinking water. The cities of Peshtigo and Marinette are working closely with DNR on PFAS issues associated with their wastewater treatment bio-solids and land spreading.

Local authorities play a vital role in helping to keep citizens informed of the progress being made. The local governments also assist in ensuring that safe water is provided to citizens and that municipal services – such as their wastewater treatment system – are carried out in a manner that does not cause the contamination to spread.

JCI/Tyco Site Background

How were PFAS discovered in the Marinette and Peshtigo area?

Properties owned by JCI in the Marinette and Peshtigo area have been used for the production and testing of specialty chemicals, including aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF), since the 1960s. Some of the AFFF materials contained PFAS. To date, the investigation has focused on discharges or environmental pollution originating from the Tyco Fire Technology Center (FTC) and the JCI Stanton Street Campus, both in Marinette.

In 2013, Tyco conducted PFAS sampling on the FTC property and discovered PFAS. However, Tyco did not notify the DNR of the discharge of the hazardous substance.

In 2016, the state requested that Tyco sample groundwater at the FTC for PFAS, given the growing national concern over PFAS and AFFF firefighting foams. Sampling results found PFAS.

In 2016, Johnson Controls and Tyco merged to form Johnson Controls International (JCI).

In 2018, JCI formally reported the discharges of PFAS to the state regarding the FTC sites, including the 2013 data.

In 2018, the EPA asked JCI to sample the groundwater at their Stanton Street Campus, as it was already undergoing a federal-lead, RCRA hazardous waste cleanup. PFAS was discovered at this ongoing cleanup as well. The state DNR took over the lead on the PFAS contamination while EPA remains the lead on the hazardous waste cleanup.

JCI is conducting investigations on both the FTC and the Stanton Street Campus under DNR's NR 700 process. The DNR is working with JCI to identify all areas where PFAS was disposed and where contamination has spread; requiring interim and long-term remedial actions to protect the surrounding community; and requesting action at other properties where PFAS may have impacted the environment.

What is the name of the product JCI used that contained PFAS? Did they manufacture it?

JCI facilities manufactured and tested aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) products used to extinguish gas- and liquid-based industrial, military and aviation fires. Some of these products contained PFAS compounds with fluorinated chains of eight carbon atoms (i.e., "long-chain" or "C8") and PFAS compounds with chains of six fluorinated carbon atoms (i.e., "short-chain" or "C6").

How long has JCI used products with PFAS in them? Are they still using products with PFAS?

JCI tested, manufactured and/or trained with AFFF products containing PFAS at their facilities in the city of Marinette and the Peshtigo area from as early as 1962 to the present. According to information supplied by JCI, AFFF products containing "C8" or "long-chain" PFAS were used until approximately 2014. AFFF products containing "C6" or "short-chain" PFAS have been used from the mid-1990s to present.

PFAS Impacts in the Marinette and Peshtigo Area

How did PFAS get into the soil, surface water and groundwater?

he chemical characteristics of PFAS allows it to move easily move through soil and water. When PFAS are spilled or sprayed on surfaces, they can potentially enter surface water and groundwater through infiltration or runoff. PFAS in surface water and groundwater may end up in private wells, water bodies or other water supplies.

To date, this is our understanding of how PFAS has impacted the environment in and around the city of Marinette and the town of Peshtigo. PFAS has been discharged to the environment as a result of testing fire-fighting foams during outdoor training and demonstrations at the Fire Technology Center (FTC). PFAS was also discharged to the sanitary sewer at JCI's Stanton Street Campus in the city of Marinette. As a result of this discharge, PFAS entered Marinette's Wastewater Treatment Plant, partitioned to the plant's biosolids and were then landspread on fields in the area.

Is PFAS in my drinking water?

The city of Peshtigo and the city of Marinette are testing their municipal drinking water for PFAS. PFAS testing results from the municipal water systems in the city of Marinette and the city of Peshtigo have shown non-detectable or very low levels of PFAS. These concentrations are below EPA's Health Advisory Level (HAL) of 70 ppt and Wisconsin DHS's recommended groundwater standard of 20 ppt.

The results of municipal drinking water analyses are shared by each city on their websites:

With respect to private wells in the city of Marinette and town of Peshtigo, JCI has sampled 168 private wells in their study area. Of those wells sampled, 58 wells have tested positive for PFAS with 16 results exceeding the EPA HAL of 70 ppt and 29 exceeding the DHS recommended groundwater standard of 20 ppt. JCI has provided 37 properties with Point-of-Entry Treatment (POET) drinking water systems. POET systems have been offered to any well-owner with detection of PFAS compounds. JCI is offering bottled water to all properties in the sampling area, regardless of test results. A long-term solution to address this issue is being worked on between JCI, the state, impacted communities and citizens.

Where has sampling been conducted?

Drinking water, surface water, groundwater, biosolids and soil have been sampled in specific areas. The DNR is working with JCI to determine the nature and extent of the contamination. Given the complexity of PFAS, the DNR is continuing to direct JCI to make progress on determining where the PFAS was disposed of and how far it has migrated. As noted in the illustration below, the contamination can migrate through many pathways.

Conceptual site model for how PFAS may enter the environment from firefighting foam applications.
Conceptual site model for how PFAS may enter the environment from one source (firefighting foam applications).
Source: ITRC

Site investigation work plans and other technical documents are submitted by JCI and posted to DNR's online database, BRRTS on the Web (BOTW). Online case files are available for the following sites:

Additional information can be found on the following websites:

There are at least 4,000 PFAS substances. The primary focus for Marinette County are compounds from Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) because this is the primary source of contamination in our area. However, it was stated that there are 26 PFAS compounds being examined. Clearly, there are other sources of PFAS other than firefighting foam. What is the source of all the PFAS-related structures affecting our area besides firefighting foam?

Likely sources in the city of Marinette include consumer products and other industries. Although some industries have begun to phase out "long-chain" PFAS, some consumer products still contain PFAS compounds. Imported products may also contain PFAS. Through regular use, these products may introduce PFAS to the sanitary sewer waste stream.

More information can be found on the Interstate Technology Regulatory Council's (ITRC) History and Use of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS).

Potable Wells in the Town of Peshtigo and City of Marinette

Will the private potable well sampling area be expanded beyond the current boundaries? I am just outside the current boundary; can I have my well sampled?

The DNR is working with JCI to define the area that must be monitored for contamination fully. This investigation is a process that can change based on data from repeated rounds of sampling and analysis. If these data indicate an expansion of the impacted area, then the monitoring area will be expanded. If you are outside of the sampling area but still have concerns, it is possible to have your well tested by a private laboratory at your own expense. There are environmental consultants in the area that may be able to assist in this.

It is not a practice of the DNR to recommend specific laboratories. However, DNR offers the following questions to ask when finding an appropriate laboratory.

  • Is the lab following EPA 537.1 methodology for the analysis of drinking water for PFAS?
  • How many drinking water samples has the lab analyzed using EPA 537.1? Generally, more is better.
  • How many PFAS drinking water certifications does the lab currently hold and from who? Generally, more is better.
How can my well be impacted and not my neighbor's?

Regional geology, surface water features and groundwater movement affect how PFAS migrate through the sub-surface and aquifer. Additionally, variability in construction techniques and depth may affect how PFAS contaminants enter wells. JCI will continue to monitor wells in the study area to detect if and when PFAS contamination has occurred.

Are the Point-of-Entry-Treatment (POET) systems for private potable wells effective?

POET systems are effective in the short-term for small-scale drinking water treatment. The systems are designed with two tanks that take regularly scheduled samples to determine if contaminants are being effectively removed. If a contaminant breakthrough is detected, both tanks will be replaced. The state does not recommend relying on these systems if more permanent, protective options are available for current and future landowners and occupants.

If I accept a POET system, will I be eligible for a long-term solution (i.e., new well, municipal connection, etc.) when it is determined?

Yes. The POET systems are interim measures used to protect drinking water. Accepting a POET system will not affect your eligibility for the long-term solution when one is determined and implemented.

What are the possible long-term potable water solutions for impacted private wells?

JCI submitted a draft plan to DNR that outlined possible long-term potable water solutions. This was shared by JCI in a May 15, 2019, letter to residents in the area. At this time, JCI believes the best solution is to connect private wells to Marinette's existing public water supply. DNR has not yet approved the remedy for providing permanent, safe water to the impacted landowners and occupants. The DNR has requested that JCI include other options, such as obtaining water from the city of Peshtigo or a new public water supply well.

The details of this plan are being discussed by relevant parties (i.e., DNR, city of Marinette, city of Peshtigo, town of Peshtigo, impacted citizens and JCI).

If the long-term solution is to provide municipal water, will municipal water be offered to all homes in the affected area or just those with detects?

That is being evaluated at this time. DNR is requiring a remedial action that protects current and future residents over time.

Would drilling a deeper well protect my water from contamination?

Many well drillers are experienced in using methods during the drilling process designed to prevent contaminants from migrating to lower aquifers. However, well drillers' experiences have been with contaminants whose features are much better understood than PFAS. It is important to note that wells from deep aquifers in Wisconsin often produce water with lower aesthetic qualities - such as hard water and water with high iron, manganese and/or sulfur content. Additionally, deeper aquifer wells in Wisconsin are also susceptible to naturally occurring contaminants, such as radium and arsenic, that are not regulated in private wells but are monitored for and addressed in public water systems because of their negative health effects.

I have a deeper limestone well that currently has no detect. How do I know it won't be contaminated in the future?

JCI submitted a Long-Term Potable Well Monitoring Plan to DNR and intends to conduct monitoring of all potable wells in the study area. However, DNR cannot guarantee that potable wells in the impacted area, even if located in the deeper aquifer, won't be impacted in the future.

Can the DNR require the closure of private non-potable wells (i.e., Driven Point or Sand-point) in the study area?

The DNR has authority under s. NR 812.26, Wis. Adm. Code, to require filling and sealing of non-potable wells if the well poses a hazard to health, safety and/or groundwater or does not meet well construction standards. This would only be done on a case-by-case basis. The city of Marinette has adopted an ordinance that gives the city the authority to require filling and sealing of non-potable wells in the city of Marinette's water service area.

Will the soil and water be completely cleaned up?

JCI is required to restore the environment to the extent practicable and minimize harmful effects from the discharge to environmental media (e.g., water and soil). For each site so far, JCI submitted a site investigation work plan outlining what steps they will take to investigate and remediate discharges to the environment. As data is submitted, the DNR will ask JCI to continue to submit sampling plans until the extent of contamination is fully understood.

It is DNR's experience that the land and waters of the state which become contaminated through historical manufacturing use and disposal activities do not end up as "completely cleaned up." The responsible parties are required to clean up to the extent practicable by law, but at a minimum, must achieve protective levels. That means that some level of contamination may remain in the soil or water at the completion of the cleanup, but the levels must be such that they do not adversely impact human health and the environment.

Potable Well Sampling - Expanded Site Investigation Area (September 2020)

What is a potable well?

The term "potable well" refers to a well that is used as a water source for drinking water and cooking. Potable wells have different construction standards than some other wells such as irrigation wells or livestock wells. Most wells connected to a family residence are potable wells.

Why is the DNR conducting potable well sampling?

The DNR is conducting potable well sampling due to potential risk associated with per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS). A large source of PFAS contamination in groundwater has been identified at and in the vicinity of the JCI/Tyco Fire Technology Center on Industrial Avenue in Marinette and the JCI/Tyco facilities on Stanton Street in Marinette. The total size of the area with groundwater contamination (also referred to as extent of groundwater contamination) is currently unknown.

To better understand the extent of PFAS contamination in groundwater and potential exposure to the community, the DNR is sampling potable wells to ensure that community residents have accurate information regarding potential PFAS in their potable wells that may contain PFAS from contaminated groundwater.

What will the DNR be testing my water for?

The DNR will be testing drinking water for 36 PFAS compounds. PFAS are a large group of human-made chemicals that have been used in industry, firefighting foams and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s.

Where, specifically, is the DNR conducting potable well sampling in Marinette, Peshtigo and surrounding communities?

The DNR is conducting potable well sampling in an area defined as the Expanded Site Investigation Area. The Expanded Site Investigation Area is an area where potable well sampling has not yetoccurred. The Expanded Site Investigation Area is bound by the bay of Green Bay (east), Leaf Road(south), Pleasant View Road (west) and Municipality Boundary & Menominee River (north). The DNR will survey parcel owners within this area to determine which properties contain potable wells to be sampled.

How was the Expanded Site Investigation Area determined?

The Expanded Site Investigation Area encompasses areas where PFAS detections were found in potable wells tested by local community members, as well as areas where foam sightings have occurred.

Will every well in the Expanded Site Investigation Area be sampled?

Properties with a potable well or sand point well that is used as a drinking water supply will be sampled. Sampling will occur at any property where the landowner agrees to allow access to their property for sampling by completing and submitting the Potable Well Survey and Access Permission Agreement to DNR. Irrigation wells or other non-potable wells will not be included in the sampling effort. Any properties with wells that are used for dual purposes (e.g., wells used for irrigation and drinking water supply) will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Will sampling occur outside the Expanded Site Investigation Area?

Not at this time. However, if a homeowner or well owner outside the Expanded Site Investigation Area has sample data from their potable well indicating PFAS detections or exceedances beyond recommended DHS standards, DNR will review the available information and may consider additional steps on a case-by-case basis. Sample results can be emailed to DNRJCIPFAS@wisconsin.gov. You can also call the DNR regarding sample results at 1-888-626-3244.

Will the sampling area expand based on results?

The sampling area will expand as necessary if results from this study and studies conducted by JCI/Tyco suggest the potential for ongoing human health risks outside the Expanded Site Investigation Area.

Will the DNR be sampling any wells that were previously sampled by JCI/Tyco?

No.

How do I get my drinking water well tested?

Eligible well owners will receive packets of information including a potable well survey and an access agreement for sampling. Letters should arrive in the mail by approximately October 2, 2020. If you believe your property is part of the Expanded Site Investigation Area and you did not receive a packet of information, contact DNR at DNRJCIPFAS@wisconsin.gov or call 1-888-626-3244 and leave a message.

Am I required to have my well sampled?

Participation in sampling is voluntary. The DNR will only sample wells where landowners return both a Potable Well Survey and a signed Access Permission Agreement giving their consent to sample. The DNR strongly encourages residents to have their potable well sampled at this time as additional opportunities for sampling by the DNR are unlikely. Having your well tested will inform you of potential PFAS exposure risk at your property.If you opt out of sampling, the DNR requests that you to complete the Potable Well Survey indicating you would not like your potable well sampled. The survey should be returned in the stamped and self-addressed envelope provided as soon as possible with a postmark no later than October 21, 2020. Alternatively, you can email a copy of the completed Potable Well Survey, to the DNR at DNRJCIPFAS@wisconsin.gov.

Do I have to pay for DNR sampling my well?

No. Within the Expanded Site Investigation Area, the sampling and associated laboratory analysis will be completed by the DNR at no cost to you as the well owner.

If I opt out of sampling, will I have an opportunity to change my mind and opt in later?

Once the sampling has been completed in 2020, it is unlikely that the DNR will have additional resources to conduct potable well sampling again. The DNR strongly encourages well owners to have their potable well sampled at this time.

If I previously had my well sampled myself, will you confirm my sample results by testing my well?

If you have sampled your well on your own, please forward your results to the DNR. A DNR representative will contact you regarding eligibility for confirmation sampling. Sample results can be emailed to DNRJCIPFAS@wisconsin.gov. You can also call the DNR regarding sample results at 1-888-626-3244.

Who will conduct the sampling of my well?

The DNR has retained the services of a qualified contractor, Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions (Wood) to conduct the sampling activities. Wood has supported the DNR on several projects involving PFAS since 2019 and has a regional office in Madison, WI. Wood has been supporting PFAS related projects nationally since 2006, including the Conceptual Drinking Water Supply Plan for 14 communities in the East Metro area of the neighboring state of Minnesota.

How long before sampling begins?

Sampling activities will begin in October 2020 pending receipt of Potable Well Surveys and Access Permission Agreements from well owners. Sampling will continue for approximately 4 to 8 weeks. Once you have returned your Potable Well Survey and Access Permission Agreement DNR's contractor, Wood, will contact you to schedule a date and time for sampling your well.

In what order will you sample properties? Will the sampling be staged/phased?

The DNR's contractor, Wood, will have sampling crews staged in all areas of the Expanded Site Investigation Area simultaneously. Sampling will be conducted only at properties where well owners have returned both the Potable Well Survey and Access Permission Agreement to the DNR.

Will the DNR or DNR's contractor need to enter my home during sampling?

Upon receipt of a signed Access Permission Agreement, the DNR's contractor, Wood, will contact you to discuss your well(s), components of your individual water system (i.e., water treatment systems, softeners, etc.), determine the most appropriate sampling location(s) and to determine the schedule for sampling your well.

In most cases, Wood will be collecting samples from outdoor spigots that provide untreated water and therefore will not be required to enter your home.

If you are unsure about your water system, Wood representatives may need to enter the basement/utility room to evaluate the system and select the most appropriate sampling location. Any need to enter a property would be discussed during the initial coordination call and approved prior to on-site arrival.

How long will sampling wells take?

The DNR's contractor, Wood, will discuss sampling protocols with you prior to sampling your well. In most circumstances, Wood will be able to collect a sample from an outdoor location at your property and sampling personnel will be on your property for less than an hour.

How long before results are available?

All well owners can expect to receive results from DNR/Wood via US Postal Service within 30-days of the sampling event.

At what levels are PFAS considered unsafe?

In 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency established cumulative-lifetime health advisories for two widely produced and studied PFAS (perfluorooctane sulfonate [PFOS] and perfluorooctanoic acid [PFOA]), at 70 parts per trillion (ppt). At the request of the DNR and in accordance with the state's groundwater law, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) reviewed scientific literature and recommended groundwater enforcement standards of 20 ppt for PFOA and PFOS individually or combined.

Currently, the state of Wisconsin does not have any health standards or recommended health standards for 34 of the 36 PFAS compounds that will be tested for in your water. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) is currently reviewing scientific literature and is developing recommendations for these compounds. Recommendations for the 34 other PFAS compounds are expected to be completed by DHS in Fall of 2020, if such scientific data exists for a specific PFAS compound.

For more information regarding the ch. NR 140, Wis. Adm. Code, rule process that is addressing Wisconsin's standards for PFAS, please review the following NR 140 webpage.

Will the DNR provide me with an alternative water source if PFAS is detected in my well?

Well owners with PFOA and PFOS at or above 20 parts per trillion (ppt) individually or combined in their drinking water may be eligible for a temporary drinking water supply provided by the DNR. The DNR will continue to work to identify and work with any responsible parties to provide replacement water solutions to residents with impacted wells, as required by Wisconsin law. Where state funds are spent, the DNR will take actions to recover those funds from those responsible for the PFAS contamination.

What happens if my drinking water has levels of PFAS above the levels recommended by the Department of Health Services?

The DNR will notify well owners within 24 hours of receipt of analytical results that are above the DHS recommended groundwater quality standard of 20 ppt (parts per trillion) for PFOA and PFOS (individually or combined). If your well has PFOA or PFOS at or above these levels, the DNR will contact you regarding a temporary supply of drinking water to be provided by the DNR to you at no cost, within the guidelines of state law.

Wastewater and Biosolids

How do PFAS end up in the wastewater stream?

PFAS can enter the wastewater stream by discharges from industrial and commercial sources of PFAS-containing wastewater to the sanitary sewer or from PFAS-containing consumer products discharged to the sanitary sewer. JCI holds a permit to discharge wastewater to the sanitary sewer in both the city of Marinette and the city of Peshtigo. The DNR worked with both cities and JCI to have the company halt sending PFAS-containing wastewater to municipal wastewater facilities via the sanitary sewer.

Is JCI discharging PFAS compounds to the city of Marinette and the city of Peshtigo sanitary sewer systems?

As of March 2019, JCI voluntarily discontinued discharging AFFF-containing wastewater to the sanitary sewer systems of the city of Marinette and the city of Peshtigo.

What are biosolids and how are they contaminated with PFAS?

Wastewater is processed and filtered during the treatment process at municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). The organic matter removed from wastewater during the treatment process are known as "biosolids." Throughout the US and Canada, biosolids are commonly recycled via land application on agricultural fields, as this practice enhances soil health, recycles nutrients (reducing fertilizer use), sequesters carbon and provides a productive use for this residual from wastewater treatment. However, if PFAS is present in the domestic and industrial wastewater entering the WWTP, they can be concentrated in the biosolids and landspreading can cause dispersal of PFAS. In this case, JCI was discharging PFAS-containing foams to the WWTP to dispose of it.

Is DNR requiring the city of Marinette and city of Peshtigo to test for PFAS in influent, effluent and biosolids at their municipal wastewater treatment plants?

The DNR has limited authority to regulate PFAS at municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in absence of a PFAS surface water quality standard. The cities of Marinette and Peshtigo have voluntarily conducted PFAS testing at their municipal WWTPs and are working with the DNR to mitigate future impacts from PFAS to the environment.

The DNR is in the process of developing a water quality standard for two PFAS compounds (PFOS and PFOA) based on recommendations from DHS. Once this standard is final, it will provide DNR authority to regulate PFAS through wastewater discharge permits.

What are the city of Marinette and city of Peshtigo WWTPs doing with their biosolids?

The city of Marinette and city of Peshtigo WWTPs are voluntarily storing their biosolids in addition to testing the biosolids for PFAS. Proper disposal will be determined in consultations between the cities, JCI and DNR.

Where can I find the test results for PFAS in the city of Marinette and the city of Peshtigo's biosolids?

The results for PFAS levels in the city of Marinette's biosolids can be found on the city’s PFOA and PFOS Investigation webpage. The city of Peshtigo is in the process of determining an appropriate location to share the results of PFAS levels in biosolids from the city’s WWTP.

What about fields where biosolids have been applied in the past?

The DNR approves and tracks locations of biosolid applications. The DNR is in the process of considering options for evaluating soil, groundwater and private wells for PFAS contamination at these locations.

The DNR has applied for research funding to study PFAS contamination on fields where biosolids were applied, groundwater around these fields and plant uptake.

The city of Marinette has a map with approximate locations of biosolid applications dating back to 1996.

The city of Peshtigo is in the process of determining an appropriate location to share information on where past land applications of biosolids have occurred.

Is there a concern that the fields with biosolid applications may have crops tainted with PFAS? Is there anything the public can do to avoid consuming those products?

When fields received biosolids from Marinette, they were not applied to crops intended for human consumption. Generally, municipal biosolids are spread on fields planted for animal feed crops.

The DNR is working with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), other states and the EPA to further explore this pathway of exposure.

Surface Water

What are surface waters and have they been contaminated with PFAS?

Surface waters include water found in rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and ditches. PFAS contamination from the JCI/Tyco Fire Training Center (FTC) entered the groundwater and nearby surface waters.

How is JCI addressing PFAS in surface waters?

JCI is monitoring surface water streams and ditches in the area around the FTC and constructing interim actions to mitigate and treat contaminated water. Where PFAS contamination has been found, JCI has installed one surface water treatment system and is in the process of installing a second surface water treatment system. The systems remove surface water, process it through a granulated activated carbon (GAC) filter system and discharge the treated water back to the ditch.

How will the public know if a surface water is contaminated with PFAS?

Some surface waters in the area may contain PFAS. The DNR is working with JCI and Wisconsin DHS to install signs alerting the public of potential PFAS contamination.

Why is surface water in the Bay of Green Bay not being sampled as part of the initial site investigation?

Surface water in the Bay of Green Bay will be sampled as part of the next phase in the site investigation. In February 2019, JCI submitted a Supplemental Site Investigation Workplan to the DNR that includes developing a sampling plan for surface water in the Bay of Green Bay.

Will fish in area surface waters be sampled as part of the site investigation?

As part of the next phase of the Site Investigation, JCI and the DNR will evaluate methods and areas to sample fish. Independently of this investigation, the DNR is in the process of collecting fish tissue samples for PFAS analysis from the Menominee River.

PFAS Foam on Surface Waters or Other Locations

How can I tell if the foam on my lake/stream is natural or from PFAS or some other contaminant?

Generally, you can tell if the foam is naturally occurring or may contain PFAS foam by observing the following characteristics.

PFAS contaminated foam

  • Can have bright white coloring
  • Tends to pile up like shaving cream
  • Can be sticky
  • May blow inland and collect on lakeshores and river banks
  • Is usually lightweight
Example of PFAS foam

Example of PFAS foam.

 

Naturally occurring foam

  • Is off-white and/or brown
  • Often accumulates in bays, eddies or river blockages
  • May have an earthy or fishy aroma
Example of naturally occurring foam.

Example of naturally occurring foam.

Is PFAS foam harmful?

Swallowing foam with PFAS could be a risk to your health. Avoiding foam with PFAS is protective of everyone, including young children, and is a recommendation supported by Wisconsin's Department of Health Services.

PFAS do not move easily through the skin, but it's always best to rinse off after contact with foam to avoid accidentally swallowing PFAS.

DHS recommends that people not allow their pets to come into contact with or swallow foam. Since pets could swallow foam collected in their fur when grooming themselves, we recommend you rinse pets off with fresh water.

I reported PFAS foam on the lake/river. Why wasn't it sampled?

The DNR conducts an on-site field verification of foam sightings prior to mobilizing contractor sampling teams. If a foam sighting has been reported some number of days after the foam was first seen, it may have dissipated before a sampling team would be able to retrieve it. DNR staff may have also sampled an area where foam sightings have been reported multiple times and are awaiting analytical sample results prior to conducting sampling in the same location again.

Health Effects and Recommendations

What are the health effects of PFAS?

Although PFAS have been used extensively since the 1950s, experts are only beginning to understand their potential impacts on human health. This understanding continues to evolve based on ongoing research. Two of the most studied PFAS chemicals are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA). Current studies suggest that exposure to high levels of PFOS and PFOA may:

  • increase cholesterol;
  • decrease antibody response;
  • decrease fertility in women;
  • increase the risk of certain types of cancer; and
  • increase the risk of thyroid diseases.

Scientists are still learning about the health effects from exposures to mixtures of PFAS. For more information, visit the CDC's PFAS and Your Health website and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) PFAS webpage.

How are we exposed to PFAS?

You can be exposed to PFAS by:

  • drinking water contaminated by PFAS;
  • eating fish caught from water contaminated by PFAS;
  • accidentally swallowing contaminated soil or dust;
  • eating food that was packaged in material that contains PFAS; and
  • using some consumer products* that contain PFAS.

*Research has shown that today's consumer products usually have low amounts of PFAS, especially when compared to levels found in contaminated drinking water. However, small exposures to PFAS are possible when a person comes in contact with or uses products such as:

  • some grease-resistant paper, fast food containers/wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes and candy wrappers;
  • nonstick cookware;
  • stain resistant coatings used on carpets, upholstery and other fabrics;
  • water resistant clothing;
  • cleaning products;
  • personal care products (shampoo, dental floss) and cosmetics (nail polish, eye makeup); and
  • paints, varnishes and sealants.

If you have questions or concerns about products you use in your home, contact the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission at 1-800-638-2772.

How can I reduce my exposure?

Because PFAS are found at low levels in some foods and in the environment (air, water, soil, etc.) completely eliminating exposure is unlikely. However, certain actions can be taken to reduce your overall exposure to PFAS, including the following.

  • If your public water supply or private well water has PFAS levels at or above the DHS recommended groundwater standards, use an alternative water source. Use bottled water or another safe alternative water source for drinking and preparing food, preparing infant formula and watering your fruit and vegetable garden. You should also use a safe alternative water source for your pets to drink. Alternative water sources include water from a known safe source without PFAS contamination or water from an approved treatment device.
  • If your non-potable well water has PFAS levels at our above DHS' recommended groundwater standards, use an alternative source of water for your garden and seedlings. Alternative water sources include water from a known safe source without PFAS contamination or water from an approved treatment device. You may use your non-potable well water to fill your swimming pool; however, to reduce the chance of accidental ingestion of small amounts of PFAS, remind swimmers not to swallow any water.
  • Follow fish consumption advisories. By following the consumption advisories currently in place where you fish, you will reduce potential health risks not only from common fish contaminants such as PCBs and mercury, but also from PFAS. More information can be found on DNR's fish advisory page and by using the DNR's online query tool to check advisories in places where you fish.
  • Vacuum your home routinely, preferably using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Soil containing traces of PFAS can be tracked into the home from outside. In addition, dust can contain PFAS from common household products, like stain resistant carpeting or water repellent clothing. Vacuuming reduces the overall amount of dirt and dust in a home.
  • Limit contact with consumer products containing PFAS*. These may include:
    • some grease-resistant paper, fast food containers/wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes and candy wrappers;
    • nonstick cookware;
    • stain resistant coatings used on carpets, upholstery and other fabrics;
    • water resistant clothing;
    • cleaning products;
    • personal care products (shampoo, dental floss) and cosmetics (nail polish, eye makeup); and
    • paints, varnishes and sealants.

*Recent federal efforts to remove PFAS from consumer products have reduced the likelihood of exposure in consumer products; however, some products may still contain them. If you have questions or concerns about products you use in your home, contact the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission at 1-800-638-2772.

Should I be worried about dermal (skin) exposure to PFAS?

PFAS do not easily enter the body through the skin. Therefore, touching or having skin contact with water, products or packaging containing PFAS is not a major source of PFAS exposure. Even if your water supply contains PFAS, it is still safe to use it for showering, bathing and washing hands. However, when bathing infants and children, be sure to monitor them and discourage swallowing of bath or shower water. Those with open skin wounds should avoid having their wound come in contact with surface water, which can contain bacteria and other harmful agents that may cause infection or make an existing one worse.

At what levels are PFAS considered unsafe?

In June 2019, the DHS recommended groundwater standards for the PFAS compounds PFOS and PFOA. In November 2020, the DHS recommended groundwater standards for 16 additional PFAS based on the most recent, peer-reviewed, scientific studies available. These standards were developed to be protective of public health, including the health of susceptible populations. The DHS uses these numbers to make recommendations to people on the use of their private well water. In addition, the DNR is developing administrative rules for groundwater and public drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS that apply to private drinking water wells, bottled water and public water systems. To learn more about the groundwater standards development process and view the DHS recommended groundwater standards, visit the DHS groundwater standards website.

Can I use my tap water for typical household activities?

If your municipal or private well water has PFAS levels at or above DHS recommended standards:

  • We recommend that you use bottled water, an approved treatment device or another safe alternative water source for drinking and preparing food, preparing infant formula and watering your fruit and vegetable garden. You should also use a safe alternative water source for your pets to drink.
  • You may use your tap water for doing laundry, washing dishes, brushing teeth and filling your swimming pool. However, to reduce the chance of accidental ingestion of small amounts of PFAS, remind swimmers not to swallow pool water.
Can I come into contact with PFAS while gardening or eating plants from my garden?

While gardening, a person might come into contact with PFAS by getting contaminated soil into their mouth or consuming fruits and vegetables that have taken up PFAS from contaminated water in the ground. While some plants can take up PFAS, others do not. Overall, the available research suggests that eating most garden plants is not a major source of PFAS exposure. Following the recommendations below will not only protect you from additional PFAS exposure, but will also protect you from exposure to other environmental contaminants that may be found in soil, including heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.

  • Use safe water. If your municipal water supply or private or non-potable well water has PFAS levels at or above DHS' recommended standards, use an alternative source of water for your garden and seedlings. Alternative water sources include water from a known safe source without PFAS contamination or water from an approved treatment device.
  • Use safe soil. Prepare garden beds with clean soil or commercial soil sold at garden stores. Place landscape fabric between ground soil and new, clean soil to prevent plant roots from growing into contaminated soil. You can also garden in raised beds or containers and fill them with new, clean soil. Modifying your soil with clean compost can help increase the organic content of your garden soil, which can help slow or stop PFAS uptake in plants.
  • Practice good self-hygiene. Wash hands immediately after gardening and before eating to avoid accidentally eating soil. Watch over small children to stop them from eating soil through hand-to-mouth play.
  • Keep your home soil-free. Avoid bringing contaminated soil into the home by cleaning tools, gloves and shoes before bringing them indoors. Put soiled gardening clothes in a bag before bringing them inside and wash them promptly in a separate load. Wash off excess dirt from crops, especially root and leafy vegetables, before bringing them indoors.
  • Eat clean produce. Wash your produce using clean water after you harvest it. Consider peeling root vegetables, which are in direct contact with soil.
PFAS was detected in my well at levels below the DHS recommended standards. Should I be concerned?

In most situations, PFAS detected in your well at levels below DHS recommended groundwater standards are not a concern and you can drink your water and use your water as you normally would for all household activities. On rare occasions, there may be concerns if multiple PFAS are detected just below their DHS recommended standards. If you are concerned about the levels of PFAS in your drinking water, the DHS can help you evaluate long-term health risks if multiple PFAS are present.

Can I swim or wade in water containing PFAS?

PFAS do not easily enter the body through the skin. Therefore, it is generally safe to swim in and use surface water bodies for recreational activities. To reduce the chance of accidental ingestion of PFAS, we recommend that you and your children:

  • Keep water out of your mouth. If surface water gets in your mouth, don't swallow it. Besides PFAS, surface water can contain algae, bacteria, viruses, decaying organic matter and other contaminants that, if swallowed, can pose a health risk to humans and pets.
  • Avoid foam. Avoiding foam is important for everyone and especially for young children and pets, who are more likely to accidentally swallow foam. Foam found in surface water can result from natural causes, pollution or a combination of the two. While natural foams can contain algae, bacteria, parasites and decaying organic matter, foams caused by pollution can contain environmental contaminants such as PFAS. Foams observed in Marinette and Peshtigo waterways were tested and found to contain very high levels of PFAS. It is important to remember that regardless of what caused the foam, it can present a health risk if swallowed.
  • Shower after swimming. Shower off after swimming or wading in surface water. Always wash hands with soap and clean water before preparing food and eating.
  • Rinse your pets too. Rinse pets with clean water after they swim in surface water. Don’t let them lick foam or algae off their fur.
How can I safely feed an infant?
  • Breastfed infants: Nursing mothers should continue to breastfeed. Nursing mothers should also drink bottled water that has PFAS levels below DHS recommended standards or use water treated with an approved treatment device. Women can pass PFAS onto infants through breastfeeding; however, our current understanding is that the health benefits from breastfeeding outweigh the negative effects of PFAS exposure through breastmilk. While we do not know a lot about the health effects of exposure to PFAS in breastmilk, we do know that the benefits of breastfeeding are well-documented. For more information about the benefits of breastfeeding, please visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Women's Health breastfeeding webpage.
  • Formula-fed infants: If your potable well water has PFAS levels at or above the DHS recommended groundwater standards, we recommend that you use an alternative water source such as bottled water or water treated with an approved treatment device to make infant formula.
Is it safe to eat fish?

Fish can be exposed to PFAS and other contaminants, such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), in areas where chemical contamination of the environment can spread to rivers, lakes and streams. A person's risk of health problems increases with the more contaminated fish they eat. Following current fish consumption advisories in your area will also help reduce your exposure to consuming fish contaminated with PFAS.

The DNR and DHS continue to look carefully at PFAS levels in fish in the area and update advisory information as needed. The most up-to-date advisory information can be found on the DNR's fish advisory page and by using the DNR's online query tool to check advisories in locations where you fish. The DNR's current fish consumption advisories are also available in Choose Wisely: A Health Guide for Eating Fish in Wisconsin.

Is it safe to eat venison?

Deer can be exposed to PFAS in areas where contamination spreads to the environment. In 2020, the DNR harvested 20 white-tailed deer from the JCI-Tyco Fire Technology Center property and tested their heart, liver and muscle tissues for PFAS. Concerning levels of PFOS were found in the liver, but not in the heart or muscle tissues. Therefore, the DNR and DHS are advising people not to eat the liver of deer harvested from a 5-mile radius of the JCI-Tyco Fire Technology Training Center (the 5-mile radius accounts for the typical travel distance of white-tailed deer). Read more information about this advisory.

Can a medical test show whether I’ve been exposed to PFAS?

A blood test can measure PFAS in your blood, but this is not a test routinely done in a doctor's office. While it is possible to get your blood tested for PFAS, test results will only tell you how much PFAS is present in your blood and not whether your health has been, or will be, affected by PFAS. At this time, the scientific understanding of PFAS is not sufficient to determine health risks based on the level of PFAS in a person's blood. Most people in the U.S. have measurable amounts of PFAS in their body because PFAS are commonly used in many consumer and industrial products.

If you have specific health concerns or would like to have your blood tested, please talk with your doctor. Some of the health effects possibly linked to PFAS exposure, like high cholesterol, can be checked as part of your annual physical. It is important to have regular check-ups and screenings.

Additional information on blood testing can be found on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) PFAS Blood Testing page. You can also read their Talking to Your Doctor about Exposure to PFAS fact sheet. The ATSDR is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

What is the average amount of PFAS in a person's blood?

Most people in the U.S. have been exposed to PFAS and have PFAS in their blood, especially PFOS and PFOA. During 2013-2014, the general population had, on average, below 5 micrograms per liter, or µg/L, of PFOA in their blood. In comparison, in 2000, highly exposed workers in PFAS manufacturing facilities had average measurements of more than 1000 µg/L of PFOA in their blood. As the production and use of PFOS and PFOA in the United States has declined, their levels in blood have gone down as well. From 1999 to 2014, blood PFOA levels among the general U.S. population have declined by more than 60% and blood PFOS levels have declined by more than 80%. For more information on PFAS blood level trends in the U.S., please read the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) fact sheet on PFAS in the U.S. Population. The ATSDR is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Who can I contact about health questions related to PFAS?

Contact the Wisconsin Department of Health Services by emailing DHSEnvHealth@dhs.wi.gov or calling 608-266-1120.