In Wisconsin, a state environmental policy board voted Wednesday to prohibit the discharge of water with detectable amounts of the bioaccumulative compound PFAS from sites where firefighting foam is tested or used for training.
The testing and training operation maintained in Marinette, Wisconsin, by Tyco Fire Products, one of the largest fire foam manufacturers in the U.S., has long been a center of controversy regarding PFAS.
In a 5-2 vote, the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board approved the temporary rule requiring that such facilities take steps to contain and treat water to remove perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a large group of man-made chemicals that have been in use by industry worldwide for decades.
The board sets policy for the state Department of Natural Resources and exercises authority and responsibility in accordance with state laws.
If approved by the rules committee of the state legislature, the new rule will remain in effect for three years or until a permanent rule is adopted, the journal reports. The process to develop a permanent rule is expected to take at least two years.
Wisconsin’s Water Quality Coalition, a group of non-profit organizations, industry partners and trade associations, has long been on the record as opposing new standards to regulate PFAS compounds.
“PFAS are synthetic compounds that have been used in industry and consumer products around the world since the 1940s,” a WMC release last year states. “However, PFOS and PFOA are no longer manufactured in the United States.”
Despite this, PFAS still exists in soil, groundwater and other substances such as recycled paper pulp, making it nearly impossible to remove from some manufacturing process, the WMC said.
PFAS, found in wildlife and fish all over the world, is known to bioaccumulate and can stay in the human body for many years.
Studies have found much higher than normal exposure to some PFAS compounds can have health effects on lab animals. However, no cause and effect relationship has been established for health effects on humans.
Tyco Fire Products acknowledged in 2017 that soil and well contamination at its Marinette site had spread beyond the facility. The company began distributing bottled water to residents whose wells may have been contaminated.
An earlier attempt to invoke a PFAS ban under the provisions of Act 101, a new law passed this year, was voted down by the rules committee along party lines. The law gives the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources limited authority to prohibit the use of PFAS-containing foam in uses other than actual firefighting.
In 2016, the federal Environmental Protection Agency established cumulative-lifetime health advisories for PFAS studied at 70 parts per trillion. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has recommended groundwater enforcement standards for amounts as small as 20 parts per trillion.