A legislative committee voted Friday to remove parts of an emergency rule regulating the use of firefighting foam containing chemicals known as PFAS. The rule, set in motion by a bipartisan bill passed last year, took effect in September.
The emergency rule from the Department of Natural Resources bans the use of the firefighting foam for testing purposes, if not in a facility that could contain the chemicals and prevent them from entering the environment.
The Republican-led Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules voted 6-4 to remove parts of the rule that identified target levels of PFAS and other definitions around treatment of contaminated foam.
“The issue before us goes beyond the intent of the Legislature,” said committee co-chair Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater. “We can’t let government go rampant and decide to put additional items in a rule when the Legislature did not intend for those to be there.”
The Democratic minority on the committee objected to changes, saying it would “neuter” any effectiveness of the emergency rule.
Regulation of PFAS chemicals has received pushback from business interest groups who rely on the chemicals for different products. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and Midwest Food Products Association both testified before the committee, saying this rule could cause liability issues for businesses.
"How Wisconsin Grapples With PFAS" from the July 26, 2019 episode of Here & Now.
The DNR administrator of the division of environmental management Darsi Foss said the wide implications being speculated were a misconception.
“The emergency rule has a very narrow application,” Foss said, adding it only pertained to those testing or cleaning contaminated foam.
Democrats also raised concerns over the calling of the committee hearing, citing a public hearing notice that “invited speakers only as determined by the co-chairs.”
PFAS, which stands for per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment. PFAS are used in firefighting foams, as well as household products like non-stick pans and food packaging. PFAS also do not break down in humans and have been linked to cancers and other long-term health impacts.
Action to regulate the chemicals has built over the last two years, as more information about the chemicals has emerged.
Additionally, large discharges of the chemicals from testing firefighting foams at a Tyco Manufacturer in Marinette and the Truax Military base in Madison have called into question the safety of groundwater and drinking water.