Source: https://www.jsonline.com, October 12, 2018
By: Lee Bergquist
A new report from a Johnson Controls subsidiary that manufactures firefighting chemicals in northeastern Wisconsin provides the clearest evidence to date that contaminants from company operations are flowing into Green Bay at multiple points.
The analysis shows perfluorinated chemicals — pollutants that are under growing scrutiny nationally —- have been found in numerous locations in Marinette in groundwater, soil and five free-flowing ditches where water directly enters the bay.
In some cases, test results of both groundwater and water in the ditches for one key compound greatly exceed a federal health advisory for drinking water over a lifetime.
In one example, groundwater contamination was found to be more than 47,000 percent higher than the federal advisory.
The results prompted Tyco Fire Products last month to propose a plan to install treatment systems in two ditches to keep more chemicals from entering the bay.
That cleanup work has not yet started, but the company says it plans to conduct cleanup efforts, including this winter.
In addition to the treatment systems, a Department of Natural Resources official said this week the agency hasn’t settled on a long-term strategy with Tyco to clean up the contamination.
“That is the million dollar question,” said Steve Ales, the DNR’s field operations manager for remediation and redevelopment. “I don’t have an answer for that.”
Ales cautioned that it is still early in a process that began in November 2017 when Tyco began investigating the extent of pollution outside of one of its facilities. He said other states are also struggling with how best to clean up such contamination.
DNR officials said Tyco’s pollution problems are the only instances in Wisconsin where perfluorinated chemicals are known to be flowing into public waterways.
Perfluorinated chemicals have potential harmful health effects, and their use in products are widespread, ranging from fire retardants to non-stick pans.
A federal draft report released in June found chemicals like those coming from the Tyco site — perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS — could be a greater public health risk than previously known.
Epidemiology studies suggest that the compounds are associated with increased risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, thyroid disease, asthma, decreased fertility, some cancers and a decline in response to vaccines.
The chemicals have been used by Tyco for decades. The company has been operating a training center southwest of the center of Marinette since the early 1960s where fire suppressants have been sprayed, according to the company. That practice has been suspended, the company said.
Tyco also operates a manufacturing plant along the Menominee River in the center of town. Tyco has also found chemicals in groundwater in monitoring wells at the plant.
Tyco provided a site investigation report to the DNR last month that detailed the extent of contamination in soil, groundwater and surface water in areas of Marinette and the Town of Peshtigo. The DNR posted more than 1,000 pages of the report late Friday.
The report shows contamination above the EPA health advisory farther south of Marinette than previously known, but the DNR and Tyco said the results might be in error and will be re-tested.
In some cases, the results show extremely high concentrations of the perfluorinated compounds.
An extreme example: A test of groundwater at a depth of 35 feet to 40 feet this summer showed PFOA concentrations at 33,000 parts per trillion.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory for drinking water is 70 parts per trillion.
Water in a nearby ditch a half-mile from Green Bay showed results of 3,800 parts per trillion and 1,700 parts per trillion on May 30 and July 12, respectively. The ditch was constructed decades ago and is now essentially a stream.
Another sample in the ditch near the Green Bay shoreline showed similar levels of pollution.
The DNR’s Ales said the groundwater is a source of water for the ditch.
Tyco has said that the ditches are not a source of drinking water.
In July, Tyco began offering water treatment systems to any property owner whose private well contained the chemicals — regardless of whether it exceeded the current federal lifetime health advisory.
In addition, trace amounts of the chemicals have also been detected in Marinette’s municipal drinking water, according to city and DNR records. Officials say, however, that the levels are extremely low and not considered a danger to public health.
The findings of the chemicals have raised some concerns locally.
A former mayor, Doug Oitzinger, said he believes the DNR and current city officials need to do more to update the public.
Tyco says it will continue to provide periodic updates, and posts information on a website. But Marinette officials have not held public meetings to explain the situation.
“I don’t think people in the city are recognizing that we have a problem and all of this stuff is flowing into the bay,” Oitzinger said.
The current mayor, Steve Genisot, did not return phone calls for comment. Warren Howard, manager of water and wastewater operations, said local authorities have looked to Tyco and the DNR to provide technical expertise.
The DNR says it is considering scheduling a public meeting after the agency has fully analyzed the results.
Another resident with concerns is Jeff Lamont, a retired hydrogeologist with experience in toxic cleanups. He lives in Marinette part of the year. His well is contaminated by the chemicals.
“I hate to be a doom and gloomer, but the extent of the contamination is much more significant than we knew and now we know it’s pooping out into Green Bay,” Lamont said.
He expressed frustration that water from the bay isn’t being tested and that samples of fish tissue haven’t been taken.
Ales said water testing in Green Bay and sampling of fish could be part of the next phase of the project.
But he also said that if compounds were found in the lake, they could be coming from other sources.
The presence of perfluorinated compounds in contemporary life is “prolific,” he said.