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Firefighting Foam Manufacturer Reports High PFAS Levels In Runoff Ditch

Samples From Another Ditch And Mouth Of Green Bay Turn Up Levels Below Maximum Standards

Johnson Controls Corporate Headquarters
Gretchen Brown/WPR

On Friday afternoon, a manufacturer of firefighting foam reported “disappointing” levels of toxic PFAS chemicals in a runoff ditch near its Marinette County facility.

Last week, Tyco Fire Products, which is part of Johnson Controls International, submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) the results from water samples taken from two ditches and the mouth of Green Bay.

The samples were tested for PFOS and PFOA, so-called “forever chemicals” that don’t easily break down in nature and have been linked to health issues.

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According to the company, samples from one ditch and the bay showed levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances below 20 parts per trillion (ppt), the standard for groundwater recommended by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The federal Environmental Protection Agency suggests a drinking water standard below 70 ppt.

The results from the other ditch “were much less favorable,” said John Perkins, Johnson Controls vice president of environment, health and safety.

Ditch B, which flows through the city of Marinette and into the bay, recorded levels of 1,000 ppt for PFOA and 72 ppt for PFOS.

The ditch was sampled just downstream of a water treatment system installed by the company. According to Perkins, regular tests of treated water have turned up undetectable levels of PFAS. However, wet weather over the last two years has meant not all water flowing through the ditch can be treated.

The system was designed to be able to treat 33 percent more water than has historically flowed through the ditch, according to Perkins. The flow rate was almost four times higher than the historic average when the ditch was sampled on July 28, he said.

Technical issues have also prevented the water treatment system from running at full capacity, Perkins added.

“That’s why we’re taking these significant steps to move forward to not only improve the amount of pumping capacity there, but also look at additional steps to essentially cut off ground water infiltration into the Ditch B area,” he said.

The company expects it will conduct additional testing in collaboration with the DNR, Perkins said.

Christine Haag, director of remediation and redevelopment for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said the agency will meet with Johnson Controls to go over their technical data and groundwater modeling information. They’ll aim to settle on solutions to quickly address the contamination in Ditch B, she said.

Haag said she expects the DNR will meet with company officials several times over the coming weeks. She hopes the DNR will be able to share new details at a listening session on Sept. 16, she said.

“It’s clear that something needs to happen quickly, so we would like to hear the additional information that they have and the plans that they have to address the situation so that they can move forward pretty quickly with a remedy,” Haag said.

The results reported Friday were part of an ongoing investigation into Tyco Fire Products and its connection to PFAS contamination in the region.