MADISON – The Department of Natural Resources has started to
release the findings of voluntary "forever chemical" testing of
water utilities across the state, finding new contaminations.
PFAS — or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are a family of
man-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 the human body over time.
The chemicals have been linked to types of kidney and testicular
cancers, lower birth weights, harm to immune and reproductive
systems, altered hormone regulation and altered thyroid
hormones. The chemicals enter the human body largely through
Here are where high levels of PFAS have been found in Wisconsin
Marinette and Peshtigo
Marinette and Peshtigo were the first two locations in Wisconsin
to discover PFAS contamination. The compounds stem from
firefighting foam testing conducted outdoors by Ansul Company,
which is now known as Tyco Fire Products, a subsidiary of
The testing took place from 1962 to 2017, and after the foam was
released, it was often washed into the surrounding soil or into
the drains going to the Marinette sewer system.
Testing has shown concentrations of more than 400 parts per
trillion of PFOA and more than 5,000 parts per trillion of PFOS.
The highest concentration found in groundwater samples were
254,000 parts per trillion and in sail was 122,000 parts per
The contamination at the site also got into groundwater,
impacting private wells in nearby Peshtigo. A settlement was
reached early last year between the company and homeowners in
the area over the impacts of the contamination.
Rhinelander was one of the first water systems in Wisconsin to
find PFAS contamination, prompting the shutdown of two wells
near the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.
The city has continued to test its wells quarterly, and is in
the process of searching for a solution to the contamination,
said Zach Vruwink, the City Administrator.
More:Toxic 'forever chemicals' aren't defined as hazardous in
Wisconsin — so the state can't force cleanup, judge says
Town of Campbell
The Town of Campbell, located on French Island near La Crosse,
has extensive PFAS contamination impacting private wells.
The PFAS being found in drinking water across the island are
likely the result of the use of PFAS-containing firefighting
foam at the La Crosse Regional Airport for decades. PFAS were
first detected on the island in 2014 in La Crosse municipal
wells, and testing of private wells began in late 2020.
About 2,000 residents on French Island are currently receiving
bottled water either from the City of La Crosse or through the
Department of Natural Resources. The DNR estimated last year it
will spend about $600,000 a year on providing water to residents.
Eau Claire shut down a few of its wells in early 2021 after PFAS
were detected. But by late 2021, the compounds were found in
more of the wells, indicating that functioning wells were
pulling them from one area of the water table into another. The
city then shut down eight wells of their 16.
The wells with elevated levels showed results ranging from 21 to
70 parts per trillion.
To deal with the contamination the city has created lagoons in
its well field to create a place to dump water that has tested
positive for high levels of PFAS, according to utility manager
Wausau's mayor announced in early 2022 that all six wells within
the city limits were impacted by PFAS, or per- and
polyfluoroalkyl substances. The wells tested between 23 parts
per trillion and 48 parts per trillion, all above the state's
recommended health safety levels of 20 parts per trillion.
Weston shut off two of its six drinking water wells in March,
after PFAS were found. According to DNR data, the water utility
showed elevated levels of PFOS at 47.4 parts per trillion in one
well, much higher than the state's recommended health advisory
level. Other wells were found to have levels below the advisory
of PFOS and PFOA, two of the most well-known PFAS compounds, as
well as other PFAS compounds.
In late 2021, Rib Mountain tested its water and found PFAS in
four of its wells, with levels above the recommended 20 parts
per trillion in one. The well was promptly taken out of service,
Rothschild also announced in early 2022 that it found elevated
levels of PFAS in its drinking water system, forcing the
shutdown of one of its wells, which showed a level of PFAS
slightly above the current recommended standard of 20 parts per
However, the village announced that after actions taken by the
Rothschild Water Utility, a second test showed that levels of
the compound dropped below the 20 parts per trillion, meaning
that the well may be used again due to the demand for water. The
village indicated that bringing the well back online may cause
elevated levels of PFAS to show again, but did not offer any
The PFAS at the Dane County Airport have become an increasingly
large issue for the area since their discovery in 2019.
The contamination is likely linked to the use of PFAS-containing
firefighting foam, which has been recommended for use by the
Federal Aviation Administration for years. As a part of yearly
requirements, the airport and the Air National Guard were
required to test the foam, discharging it on the ground and
washing it away.
Over time, the PFAS from the foam migrated through the soil and
into the water in the area, including Starkweather Creek, which
now faces one of the worst contaminations in the city. The
chemicals have also worked themselves into many of the other
water bodies in Madison as well, including Lakes Monona, Waubesa
and Kegonsa, as well as a portion of the Yahara River.
More:Wisconsin Natural Resources Board passes PFAS standards in
drinking and surface waters but leave groundwater unregulated
Testing found PFAS in ground and surface water near Mitchell
International Airport in 2019, stemming from the use of
firefighting foam at the airport and by the Air National Guard
128th Air Refueling Wing, which remains on site, and the 440th
Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve, which left Milwaukee in
Some of the highest levels of the chemicals were found in
private drinking wells along the borders of the airport.
Contaminated water was also found to flow into Lake Michigan.
Milwaukee Water Works also routinely tests the city's drinking
water for PFAS, finding very low levels of PFAS in its treated
water, ranging from 0.7 parts per trillion to 2.3 parts per
trillion. Milwaukee's drinking water is taken from Lake Michigan.
Marshfield shut down four wells and one entry point into its
water treatment facility, after PFAS were detected entering
through the point. The city will now test the individual wells
to see which is contributing to the high levels.
Testing found PFOS at 24 parts per trillion, according to DNR
Mosinee received test results at the end of May, showing
elevated levels of PFOS in one of its wells, located near Maple
Ridge Road. The city reduced the amount of water being pumped
out of the well, making up the difference with another nearby
well, according to a news release.
The city will resample both of the wells to double-check the
More: UW study finds Wisconsin rivers contributing to 'forever
chemical' concentrations in bay of Green Bay, Lake Michigan
Adams took one of its drinking water wells offline on May 11,
after finding elevated levels of PFHXS.
The city will conduct additional testing, according to a news
release, and said that there is no risk to those consuming the
water at this time.
This list will be updated as more information is released by the