The Natural Resources Board has adopted more limited PFAS rules in response to Republican objections

·3 min read

MADISON – The state Natural Resources Board adopted rules Wednesday meant to limit the spread of PFAS after Republicans in the state Legislature prevented a more robust policy on the substances known as "forever chemicals."

The rules are meant to clarify and set standards for a law passed in 2019 that prohibits companies that manufacture PFAS-containing firefighting foam from testing the substances without proper containment and treatment.

The Board approved in October 2020 an emergency version of the rules that included provisions opposed by industry lobbyists. The emergency version would have set "action levels" for the Department of Natural Resources to use to determine if treatments are effective in removing PFAS.

Republicans on the Legislature's Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules quickly blocked parts of that version of the rules. As part of its work, the committee struck out the term "foam-contaminated materials" in reference to anything used in the process of PFAS cleanup that could have become contaminated with the chemicals. Another provision the committee removed would have required all discharges of PFAS foam into the environment to be reported to the DNR's spill emergency hotline.

MORE: Legislative committee strips key provisions from rule meant to prevent PFAS contamination from firefighting foam

The lawmakers' action left the Natural Resources Board with few options. On Wednesday, the board unanimously adopted permanent rules that are in line with the ones set by the committee of legislators.

"I think we have to be very conscious of the fact that what we pass doesn't always get through legislative review," said Frederick Prehn, the board's chairman.

Environmental groups decried the changes to the rule, saying that without action limits, the rules won't do as much to protect people and the environment.

"In undercutting the effectiveness of a law that was passed with bipartisan support, Republican legislators chose to put politics over the health of Wisconsin families," said Midwest Environmental Advocates communications director Peg Sheaffer. "Their undemocratic powerplay weakened the emergency rule and set the stage for a permanent rule that falls far short of what the people of Wisconsin deserve."

Nick Novak, vice president of communications and marketing for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, said the organization does not have any objections to the version of the rules the Natural Resources Board ultimately adopted.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a family of human-made chemicals used for their water- and stain-resistant qualities in products like clothing and carpet, nonstick cookware, packaging and firefighting foam. The family includes 5,000 compounds, which are persistent, remaining both in the environment and human body for long periods.

More: What are PFAS? Here's what you need to know about the emerging contaminant group known as 'forever chemicals'

PFAS have been linked to types of kidney and testicular cancers, lower birth weights, harm to immune and reproductive systems, and altered hormone regulation and thyroid hormones.

The compounds have been found in locations across the state. Some of the worst contamination was discovered in the Marinette and Peshtigo area that stems from the Tyco Fire Products plant, which mixes PFAS-containing foam. Residents opposed the removal of the action limits and other provisions last year, saying it seemed like their health was being put behind the bottom line of the company that created the contamination their community is still facing years after it was discovered.

Laura Schulte can be reached at leschulte@jrn.com and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura.

Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.

DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Natural Resources Board adopts limited PFAS rules

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting