Wisconsin’s natural resources policy board is expected to vote this week on whether to allow the agency to draft rules limiting the use of firefighting foam containing hazardous fluorinated compounds known as PFAS.
The board has been asked to approve parameters for an emergency rule that will determine guidelines for where and how fluorinated foam can be tested and disposed of, as well as the requirements for record keeping and notification when it’s used.
The DNR is required to craft the rules under legislation passed last year restricting the use of fluorinated foam to emergency situations and testing facilities that the DNR determines to have “appropriate containment, treatment, and disposal measures.”
The law requires the DNR to adopt emergency rules by Sept. 7 that will remain in effect for three years or until the DNR can adopt permanent rules, a process that typically takes about 2 1/2 years.
Sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment, PFAS are a group of largely unregulated synthetic compounds found in firefighting foam, food packaging, non-stick cookware, water-resistant clothing, carpeting and other products that have been shown to increase the risk of cancer and other ailments.
They have been found in drinking water, groundwater, surface water, soil, sediments, air, fish and wildlife as well as human blood samples.
The DNR is monitoring about 30 PFAS contamination sites around the state, most of which the agency says can be traced to firefighting foam. Several contaminated sites at the Dane County Regional Airport have been linked to training areas used for decades by the Wisconsin Air National Guard and local fire departments.
The DNR estimates compliance with the new rule could cost up to $5 million a year.
The State Fire Chiefs Association has said it supports the new law but is concerned about the cost of disposal, which it said averages about $50 per gallon.
The DNR is surveying fire departments to determine how much fluorinated foam they have on hand. A 2018 survey estimated Michigan fire departments had more than 36,000 gallons, though the agency said Wisconsin likely has less.
The Madison Fire Department last year became the first in Wisconsin to stop using fluorinated foam. The department estimated it would cost about $15,000 to collect and dispose of 610 gallons of concentrated foam.
According to Fire Department documents, the contractor, North Shore Environmental Construction, planned to dispose of the material at a Waste Management landfill in Arlington, Oregon.
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