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Water investigation moves forward, dangerous chemical found in city wells

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – The city is moving forward with new PFAs water testing after two wells were contaminated by the man-made chemical known to cause health problems.

City wells 23 and 24 are both stationed between the La Crosse airport and the Black River. Well 23 was shut down in 2016 for PFAs contamination. Well 24 was still in use until spring 2019, when more tests found PFAs there as well.

PFAs and PFOAs are a chemical found in many common items: Teflon, Scotchguard, makeup, aluminum foil, metal plating, paper, packaging materials, and many fire fighting foams, just to name a few. The chemical is known to have negative health effects on people, like higher cholesterol or immune deficiencies.

Environmentalists say fire fighting foam from the ’70s and ’80s is the source of La Crosse’s well contaminations. During training at the La Crosse Airport at that time, the fire department burned waste material and put it out with foam containing PFAs chemicals. That foam then soaked into the groundwater, contaminating nearby wells.

The La Crosse Fire Department tells News 19 they no longer use foam with PFAs for fire training.

With the help of the independent company, Coulee Environmental Solutions, La Crosse is now moving forward with additional PFAs testing to learning the contamination’s extent and whether or not it has reached the Black River.

“We’re putting in monitoring wells around the old test burn pits, as well as upstream from wells 23 and 24, and then we’ll be checking the groundwater to see what the levels of PFAs contamination are,” Coulee Environmental Solutions environmental consultant John Storlie said.

Because the PFAs contamination blame lies with the City of La Crosse, the burden to find a solution also falls on the city’s shoulders.

“The city is the responsible party because the city owns the property, the city fire department and the airport operations caused the contamination, and then ultimately, the city municipality owns the water well and has the responsibility to deliver safe water,” said Storlie.

Storlie, along with La Crosse Utility Manager Bernard Lenz, said despite both contaminated wells closing down for PFAs, the levels were below the state government’s standard for PFAs contamination.

“We do believe at this point the water is safe,” said Storlie. “It’s not above drinking water standards [for PFAs contamination].”

The investigation can’t start until the Wisconsin DNR approves the plan. Then, the city has to find money in their budget.

Storlie expects this investigation will cost between $100,000 and $125,000.

If the DNR approves the plan and the city can budget the money, Storlie expects to begin PFAs water testing in the spring of 2020.

The Wisconsin DNR is conducting a statewide study on PFAs, among various other research efforts. So far, they’ve found another two waterways with PFAs contamination, including Monroe County’s Silver Creek. Silver Creek runs by the Fort McCoy Airport.

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Amber Meyer

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