Wisconsin Senate approves bill to create grants, limit enforcement on PFAS pollution

The Wisconsin Senate has approved a Republican-authored bill by a 23 to 10 vote that would spend tens of millions of dollars in an effort to address contamination of water by PFAS chemicals.

Associated Press

November 14, 2023

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Overhead lights illuminate the interior concrete ceiling and walls of a wastewater treatment plant, with metal guard railings separating walkways from the surface of open tanks filled with water.

Wastewater is treated at a municipal plant in Eau Claire on Oct. 25, 2021. A bill passed by the Wisconsin Senate on Nov. 14, 2023, would create grants o test for PFAS in water treatment plants, among policies related to pollution by these chemicals. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin municipalities and landowners could apply for tens of millions of dollars in state grants to combat PFAS pollution under a bill the state Senate approved on Nov. 14.

The chamber passed the Republican-authored bill by a 23-10 vote. The legislation goes next to the state Assembly. Passage there would send it Gov. Tony Evers, but the governor has said he doesn’t support the bill because it would limit the state Department of Natural Resources’ ability to order landowners to clean up contamination.

The bill would create grants for Wisconsin cities, towns and villages, as well as private landowners and waste disposal facilities, to test for PFAS in water treatment plants and wells. The money would come from a $125 million fund that GOP legislators included in the state budget to deal with the chemicals.

Under the bill, the DNR would need landowners’ permission to test their water for PFAS and would be responsible for remediation at contaminated sites where the responsible party is unknown or can’t pay for the work.

The agency would be prohibited from taking any enforcement action against landowners who spread PFAS in compliance with a license or permit or own land contaminated through legal manure spreading. Landowners who allow the DNR to remediate contaminated property at the state’s expense would be immune from enforcement action.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are human-made chemicals that don’t break down easily in nature. They’re present in a range of products, including cookware, firefighting foam and stain-resistant clothing. They have been linked to low birth weight, cancer and liver disease, and have been shown to reduce vaccines’ effectiveness.

Municipalities across Wisconsin are struggling with PFAS contamination in groundwater, including Marinette, Madison, Wausau and the town of Campbell on French Island. The waters of Green Bay also are contaminated.

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