Evers Seeks Private Firm’s Aid on Pollution » Urban Milwaukee

Firefighting foam can be seen in a ditch nearby the Husky oil refinery in Superior the morning after a series of fires and explosion on April 26, 2018. Concerns have grown over the use of firefighting foam that can contain so-called “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

Gov. Tony Evers announced Friday that his administration is seeking an outside law firm to help the state prosecute companies responsible for PFAS contamination in Wisconsin. The move is part of an effort to hold corporate polluters responsible under the state’s PFAS Action Plan, which was released in December.

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as PFAS, have raised concerns because they don’t break down easily in the environment. The chemicals are found in firefighting foam and everyday products. Studies have linked PFAS to thyroid disease, reproductive health issues and kidney and testicular cancers.

“PFAS can have devastating effects not only on our state’s ecosystem and vital natural resources, but on the health of our families and communities across the state,” said Evers in a statement. “It is unacceptable and those companies responsible for the contamination of our land and water should be held accountable so we can move forward in cleaning up this pollution for the health and safety of our communities.”

Working with Attorney General Josh Kaul, Evers has asked the Wisconsin Department of Administration to solicit bids from law firms, according to a release. The administration did not provide details on what company or companies would be the target of litigation.

States like Michigan, New Hampshire and Vermont have mounted legal challenges against companies responsible for PFAS contamination to secure compensation for residents impacted by pollution.

Wisconsin environmental regulators are monitoring more than 50 sites with PFAS contamination across the state, including in Superior, Marinette, Madison and Milwaukee. The sites include military installations, industrial areas and waterways.

The announcement comes a day after the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced that surface water sampling confirmed traces of PFAS throughout Madison-area lakes and along the Yahara River. The agency began collecting samples after testing last year showed elevated levels of the chemicals in stormwater coming from the Dane County airport, which drains into Starkweather Creek and Lake Monona. The airport was the site of burn pits used for firefighter training.

The findings prompted a fish consumption advisory for those two waterbodies, and the agency is currently reviewing fish tissue samples for PFAS on the Yahara chain of lakes. The DNR also recently issued a fish…

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