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Republicans, Democrats Introduce Bills Addressing Fire Foam Use

Foam Contains PFAS, Which Officials Say Can Pose Health Risks

Wisconsin State Capitol from the street.
Sheryl Gasser/WPR

Republican and Democratic state lawmakers are introducing bills to address the use of fire-fighting foam that contains pollutants.

A group of Democratic legislators are introducing a bill that calls for the state Department of Natural Resources to establish standards and monitoring requirements for pollution from fire-fighting foam.

Five Democrats including state Sen. Mark Miller, of Monona, and state Rep. Chris Taylor, of Madison, unveiled the bill at a news conference Thursday morning in Green Bay flanked by Gov. Tony Evers and DNR Secretary Preston Cole.

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The bill would require the DNR to establish acceptable levels of polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which are found in the foam. The measure also calls for the DNR to set up monitoring requirements for PFAS and set criteria for certify laboratories to test for PFAS.

The bill is called the Chemical Level Enforcement and Remediation (CLEAR) Act.

“It’s one of the most comprehensive PFAS bills in the nation and it relies on science. It would once again make Wisconsin an environmental leader when it comes to PFAS,” Evers said.

Wisconsin health officials say research suggests PFAS can reduce fertility, increase the risk of high blood pressure in pregnant women and lower birth weights.

The chemicals have been found in private wells in the town of Peshtigo, Marinette and Porterfield. Also in municipal wells in the city of Madison, according to a legislative news release.

DNR records show Marinette-based Tyco Fire Products discovered its fire training facility was contaminated with PFAS in 2013. The company started distributing bottled water to residents whose private wells may have been affected in December 2017.

State Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, is one of the sponsors of the Democratic bill. He said the bill would require PFAS limits on drinking water, surface water, sediments and air quality and that the bill is aimed at putting in place a “comprehensive framework” for identifying the compounds. He also said the bill is meant to identify “safe limits and provide the DNR with the tools they need to make sure that those responsible for allowing those compounds to get into our environment are held responsible for the removal and cleanup.”

Meanwhile, two Republican lawmakers from northeastern Wisconsin are introducing a bill that would limit the use of the foam.

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Green Bay Republican Sen. Rob Cowles’ proposal would allow the use of foam containing PFAS only in emergency fire-fighting or fire prevention operations. Testing facilities could use the foam only if they have appropriate containment measures, which the DNR would create.

In a joint release Wednesday, Nygren and Cowles touted the bill as a “step in the right direction.”

“This bill strikes a balance in reducing the risks to human health and negative environmental footprint PFAS chemicals pose, while not hamstringing first responders who need to use firefighting foams in real emergencies,” Cowles said in the release.

“PFAS contamination of groundwater is a serious issue in Northeastern Wisconsin and a growing problem in other areas of the state. Today, we circulated a bill restricting the use of ‘Class B’ firefighting foam with added PFAS, a root cause of this type of contamination,” Nygren said in the release. “It is important we work to reduce possible contamination sources in our state, and this bill is a strong step in the right direction.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include original reporting by WPR.