MADISON/LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Department of Health Services have issued an interim area-wide drinking water advisory for French Island residents due to concerns over PFAS in the water.
The DNR cited the potential health risks in issuing the advisory.
They plan to outline some of the other steps they're taking at a virtual information session Thursday night (3/25) at 6:30 p.m.
Here is the link for the evening information session: https://youtu.be/kz-29ndUMCI
With the advisory, the DNR said that people who currently aren't receiving bottled water from the City of La Crosse are eligible for DNR-provided bottled water. The water would be supplied by Culligan through a DNR contract. Delivery of the water would be in five gallon containers.
People who want to request water from the DNR are asked to fill out a form which you can find here.
When complete, the form should be sent here:
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
c/o Jenna Soyer – RR/5
P.O. Box 7923
Madison, WI 53703
Water could be delivered in the coming week once the form is filled out.
The DNR is also gathering information over the next three months regarding well testing. In a statement, the DNR said it was working on a sampling plan for the private wells on French Island. It said that based on the results, they would determine whether to modify the existing drinking water advisory they issued today (3/25). The DNR and its contractor, Wood Environmental, plan to contact selected residents for well access for sampling.
The DNR said the City of La Crosse is providing approximately 54 residents with bottled water. There are approximately 4,300 residents and 1,200 private wells in the Town of Campbell according to the DNR. Wells are used rather than a municipal water system for residents.
The city began supplying water after testing showed that the man-made PFAS chemicals spread from the La Crosse airport where the chemicals were used in firefighting foam.
"The city is conducting a site investigation of several PFAS areas on the airport property such as crash sites, and areas where PFAS foam was tested or trained with," said Darsi Foss, administrator for environmental management at the DNR. "We know that PFAS contamination is present in soil and groundwater and we know that the groundwater has migrated off-site into neighboring areas to the South and Southeast of the airport."
Foss said all well samples that the city provided to the DNR, except one, have detections of PFAS. From those samples and others that residents have taken, the DNR and DHS are aware of 185 different wells on French Island with PFAS contamination related results.
"The ground water investigation is still on-going by the city. DNR and DHS will continue to work with the residents of French Island, town, city, and county officials to aid them in providing emergency safe drinking water to address these concerns. As well as ultimately identify the sources of PFAS on the island and to take actions to provide permanent water and the clean-up of ground water contamination," said Foss.
Dr. Curtis Hedman, a toxicologist in the hazard assessment section at the Wisconsin DHS said that the DHS agrees with the DNR that the extent of PFAS contamination on French Island is currently undetermined and therefore justifies the area wide drinking water advisory.
"This advisory allows the state to take actions to provide drinking water supply in order to prevent potential PFAS exposures among French Island households," said Hedman.
The next step is the DNR will provide five gallon water containers to any private water supply resident. If they aren't already receiving water from the city, they can request it from the DNR by turning in a form on their website. Residents can also get the forms at the Town Hall. The DNR and it's contractor will also conduct further testing. The DNR will select those wells and it may take up to 90 days.
"It's sometimes an art and a science on how to find where this ground water contamination is and where it's moving so it won't always be self evident on where to sample but we will do our best right now to get a general overview of where we think the contamination has moved to," said Foss.
The funding for these samples is coming from the Wisconsin DNR. Foss said it could be $200,000 or more depending on how long they have to provide water.
"The Department of Natural Resources has funds available when there is unknown or unwilling or unable situations where contamination has occurred. We do have legal authority and funds available to take a step forward and to address situations like this," said Foss.
Dr. Hedman said they are working to provide a long term fix for French Island residents. He encourages citizens to reach out to the DHS with questions and concerns. These samples being taken will help them determine if a long-term solution is necessary.
"I don't think we are quite there yet or what that might be," said Christine Haag, Remediation and Redevelopment Program Director at the DNR. "I can say from our experience in Marinette that it's not a quick fix. there's not a quick solution to this. It's complicated but the department is committed to working with the town, the city, and residents to understand if that solution is necessary and then to work quickly to get that implemented."
Haag explained that the city of La Crosse is the party responsible for the contamination.
"They are legally responsible for defining the degree and the extent of that contamination, taking whatever interim actions are needed to halt the contamination, and then implementing an action that restores the environment to the extent practicable," said Haag.
She said the DNR is not taking over what the city is already doing, rather they are supplementing this to help out the residents impacted.
For more information:
INFORMATION AND PREVIOUS WXOW COVERAGE ON PFAS ISSUES