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CLEAR Act returns, sighting PFAS

EagleHerald staff writer

MARINETTE—As the state gradually lifts its finger off the pandemic pause button, the 105th cadre of the Wisconsin State Legislature begins rolling out its compendium of proposed bills, aiming to flourish the wellbeing of everyone in the dairyland and taking the state—as its motto proclaims —“forward.”

That relaxing of the pause button also means digging back into some difficult issues that, to some extent, straggled legislatively underfoot when COVID-19 stepped onto the stage in the middle of the 2019-21 biennium session.

Locally, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, aka PFAS, contamination represents one of those issues that received a temporary reprieve from legislative action over the last year. But with Gov. Tony Evers’ announcement at a press conference in La Crosse Wednesday, the fate of PFAS regulation once again falls to Wisconsin legislators.

Along with State Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) and State Rep. Samba Baldeh (D-Madison), Evers reintroduced Wisconsin’s Chemical Level Enforcement and Remediation (CLEAR) Act for the 2021-23 legislative session. The Act represents a refurbished bill introduced in the 2019-21 session, dedicated to addressing the PFAS statewide.

“Every Wisconsinite, no matter where they live, should be able to trust the water from their tap. Period,” Evers said.

The revitalized CLEAR Act—like its predecessor—directly addresses the establishment of tighter regulations and regulatory authority on PFAS chemicals. Moreover, it creates funding resources for municipalities to address PFAS remediation and clean water, proposes a well testing program on a countywide level, prohibits the intentional addition of PFAS in food packaging, addresses many other environmental and community PFAS issues. Additionally, the governor’s biennial budget proposes significant resources for the monitoring and testing of PFAS including over $20 million over the next two years for assistance and resources to local communities impacted by PFAS contamination.

And to see that kind of interest and awareness from state legislators has many people in the City of Marinette and Town of Peshtigo areas paying attention.

THE LOCAL TAKE

“I am very pleased to see that there are other senators and representatives who are willing to keep this conversation relevant and the bill alive,” said Town of Peshtigo Chairperson Cindy Boyle, whose community sits in the thick of the Northeastern Wisconsin PFAS contamination issues (See Local PFAS history). “I’m not surprised that the conversation will continue to be more relevant and I am really hoping that senators and representatives from across the state whose communities are impacted by PFAS, regardless of what side of the aisle they happened to be on, will do what is in the best interest of their constituents and … support (the CLEAR Act) with their votes.”

The original CLEAR Act was introduced by a group of Wisconsin Democrats in May of 2019 during a press conference in Green Bay. Among those legislators was former State Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay). However, the bill became a largely partisan issue and died in the legislature.

Not long after, former Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Hansen collaborated on a separate bipartisan bill with a group of their Marinette and TOP constituents directly affected by PFAS contamination from the Fire Technology Center (FTC) operated by Tyco Fire Products LP in Marinette (See Local PFAS History).

Known as Senate Bill 772 and 773, that bipartisan effort represented a compromise bill over many of the features that divided support for the original CLEAR Act across party lines. While the bill gained a strong bipartisan support and received a public hearing at the State Capitol, at which several local Marinette and TOP residents offered testimony, it also died on the Assembly floor. And then COVID hit.

However, throughout the crafting of both the original CLEAR Act and SB 772, Hansen and Nygren utilized the experiences and insights offered by area residents as they confronted PFAS contamination in the Marinette and Peshtigo areas.

“There was a really wonderful communication line between Sen. Hansen’s office and the folks here in the area on both the original (act) and on the compromise bill,” said Doug Oitzinger, a Marinette alderman and strong activist on the PFAS front.

As such, the original bill included several elements specific to this area, such as cancer cluster studies and blood testing as it relates to PFAS exposure.

“The original CLEAR Act and its revisions … were largely done in conjunction with the residents of the TOP and the City of Marinette,” Boyle said.

Oitzinger hopes to see some of those legislators draw on this area’s history of dealing with PFAS as they move ahead

“In the Marinette and Peshtigo area, we are in year four (dealing with PFAS),” he said. “We have a lot of knowledge and we have been down this road for a longer time (than other Wisconsin PFAS sites) and having been very involved in crafting the original CLEAR Act we have some sense of why certain things were (included in the first bill) and their importance.”

BIPARTISAN CHANCES

As a TOP resident and the town chairperson, Boyle knows what it feels like to spend four years struggling to address the plume of contamination lingering beneath her town —and its associated complications. Along with Oitzinger and several others, she testified at the capitol in February 2020 during hearings on the original but unsuccessful CLEAR Act compromise bill.

She reiterated her hopes that the legislators across the state can come together and push the new CLEAR Act forward to help ensure the welfare of Wisconsin citizens.

And she laid that responsibility at the feet of legislators statewide.

“I’m glad to see progress and I really hope this bill is given an opportunity to at least get a vote on the floor so that we, as a state know which representatives are taking PFAS seriously and taking the safety of their constituents seriously,” Boyle said.

She felt some trepidation stemming from the fact that right out of the gate, the new bill’s co-authors all resided on the Democrat side of the aisle.

One of those co-authors, Agard told the EagleHerald she remains optimistic regarding the bipartisan support.

“It is really clear that this isn’t an issue that is targeting Republican communities or Democratic communities or independent communities, it is something that effecting folks all across Wisconsin,” Agard said. “So I am really hopeful … that partisanship is put aside and we are able to work together to address this public health issue.”

She pointed at that the new CLEAR Act does resonate with some bipartisanship already as it includes some of the same ideas and work already achieved by Nygren, such as regulations to help phase out the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams.

“The bill as it is drafted certainly does take into consideration a lot of the work that was done by Rep. (Nygren) from (Marinette),” she said. “And so I am reaching out to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I am earnest … to put the best interests of our constituents at heart and looking forward to working with my colleagues regardless of party association moving forward.”

EARLY PARTISAN DIVERGENCE?

However, Thursday, during an open house event in Marinette convened by State Sen. Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay), who replaced CLEAR Act supporter Hansen after the November election, an early sign of partisan division emerged when the senator conveyed his thoughts to the EagleHerald regarding the new CLEAR Act.

“(The reintroduced CLEAR Act) is just rearranging the furniture,” Wimberger said. “It is nothing new … I don’t think the CLEAR Act changes any dynamic, because the DNR already has the authority to unilaterally regulate, generally, the water in Wisconsin.”

In a general sense, Wimberger admitted he was on the same page and realizes that PFAS needs to be addressed. He just disagrees with some of the methodology/legislation to accomplish that goal.

“I think the Legislature is already in support—at least I am—of the additional funds to do PFAS studies to figure out what is a harmful level,” he said. “But to direct the DNR to make a rule, doesn’t negate the fact that there are overarching constitutional requirements in the rule-making process.”

Moreover, since 2019, at the direction of Gov. Evers, the DNR has been engaged in a lengthy rulemaking process that will set maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for two types of PFAS (PFOA and PFOS) in drinking water as well as setting additional PFAS standards for groundwater and surface water.

“That rule-making authority with advice and consent, the ability for redressing your grievances, the public hearings … that all has to happen yet under the due process,” Wimberger added. “If Gov. Evers has already directed this then (the DNR) is already that much time ahead in that process.”

Additionally, Wimberger pointed out that the 20 parts per trillion (ppt) enforceable standard set in the bill seems arbitrary.

“Whether or not that is a safe level is unknown,” he said. “The EPA says 70 (ppt) is the appropriate level is up in the air and I think that is the only reason why the DNR has not taken action—because they don’t know for sure.”

However, the revised CLEAR Act also contains many provisions related to funding that help address the PFAS contamination, and it also includes additional types of PFAS under its standards umbrella (See PFAS precursors and health). The authors of the new act utilized input from WISPAC (Wisconsin PFAS Action Coalition), which Evers assembled last year to specifically address PFAS issues.

Thanks to the efforts of WISPAC and the work of various officials belonging to 20 different state agencies and also the University of Wisconsin, knowledge and understanding of PFAS and its consequences have continued to expand since the original CLEAR Act. Using that new knowledge, WISCPAC came out with a series of recommendations that authors applied to the new CLEAR Act.

“(This act) is a very much updated version,” Oitzinger said. “… this is really a major rewrite.”


News
Local PFAS History

Local PFAS History {child_byline}By JOHN LIESVELD EagleHerald staff writer jliesveld@eagleherald.com{/child_byline} PFAS contamination has become ubiquitous throughout the world, including at detectable blood levels inside 98% of the U.S. population according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the Marinette and TOP area, a PFAS hot-spot in Wisconsin, the issue began after decades of historical testing of aqueous film-forming foam, a fire suppression method used on high-hazard, extreme temperature flammable liquid fires, on which water is not effective. That testing occurred on an outdoor testing facility at the Fire Technology Center owned by Tyco Fire Products LP (Tyco), a subsidiary of Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) in Marinette. It resulted in a seeping plume of contaminated groundwater with a focal point around the FTC but which diffused outward over a large area incorporating many residents in the Town of Peshtigo. It resulted in PFAS contamination of private drinking water wells, the environment and the wastewater system for the City of Marinette. TOP and surrounding communities continue to deal with the impacts and the struggle to implement a clean water solution.

PFAS contamination has become ubiquitous throughout the world, including at detectable blood levels inside 98% of the U.S. population according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the Marinette and TOP area, a PFAS hot-spot in Wisconsin, the issue began after decades of historical testing of aqueous film-forming foam, a fire suppression method used on high-hazard, extreme temperature flammable liquid fires, on which water is not effective. That testing occurred on an outdoor testing facility at the Fire Technology Center owned by Tyco Fire Products LP (Tyco), a subsidiary of Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) in Marinette.

It resulted in a seeping plume of contaminated groundwater with a focal point around the FTC but which diffused outward over a large area incorporating many residents in the Town of Peshtigo. It resulted in PFAS contamination of private drinking water wells, the environment and the wastewater system for the City of Marinette.

TOP and surrounding communities continue to deal with the impacts and the struggle to implement a clean water solution.


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Peshtigo Schools install new interactive display technology

PESHTIGO—Peshtigo School District leaders are trying to do everything they can to improve teaching and learning. Recently, BenQ interactive display panels have been installed in 16 classrooms.

These new interactive display panels are much brighter than the old units, have a germ resistive surface, and offer built-in software, according to school officials. Federal money called Title IV money is earmarked for technology support and that’s where some of the funding came from. Priority was given to install them for the benefit of the youngest children first.

BenQ display panels look like a television or computer screen in the front of the classroom with all the features of a touchscreen computer display, yet large enough for a whole classroom of students to see. Students and teachers can interact together on screen, replacing the old fashioned chalkboard or dry erase boards in the front of the classroom.

“I like that they can be used alone without the use of a laptop,” teacher Jenny Smith said.

Special education teacher Felisha Maurer added, “I love that I can access any of my Google Drive files. Everything I need is all in one spot.”

Teacher Becky Cording agrees that, “The biggest plus of these is the visibility.”

BenQ panels have touch screen technology and all of the features of a computer that students and teachers can use simultaneously on a 75-inch screen big enough for everyone to see.

“We were using interactive whiteboards that were, in many cases, over 10 years old,” Cording said.

Jim Meyer, director of Technology for the Peshtigo School District, explained that the BenQ brand of interactive panels have been in the market for a few years now. Staff met with several vendors and chose the 75-foot panels determining that they were “affordable and large enough for a whole classroom to see them.”

Meyer said BenQ screens are high definition and new apps are constantly being created for the built-in computer within the BenQ display panel.

“We can see so much better,” was the response from Maren Nerat’s kindergarten class.

She explains, “I love the clarity. My interactive whiteboard projector was getting to the point where it was hard to see even when we dimmed the lights.”

Fourth-grade teacher Julie Nelson agrees that the picture quality is far superior to the old technology. Nelson shares, “I had to shut the window blinds and turn all the lights off to see any video. Now, I can let the sun shine in and still see the video.”

4K teacher Justin Woulf feels the same way, “The brightness and sharpness is far superior to what we had before.”

This technology helps students with different learning styles. High school special education teacher Janet Terp loves how BenQ display panels “provide opportunities to actively engage students by providing multi-sensory learning options and support both hands-on and visual learners.”

Teachers can quickly and easily adapt to student or classroom needs.

“You can have up to three students writing on the BenQ panel at the same time,” said first-grade teacher Jodi Schultz.

Nerat explained some of the advanced features. “There are special features such as a laser pointer and spot light to use when I need to direct the students attention to specific items. I am able to share screens from other devices which allows me to be mobile in the classroom to support individual students while still focusing the rest of the class. For example, I am able to draw on my iPad and project it to the big screen while walking around supporting the kids rather than standing in front of the class.”

“I use it throughout the day like showing tutorials, magnifying story books I read aloud and showing student work,” said teacher Loretta Rich. “It’s a great teaching tool.”

Nelson said she loves the BenQ built-in screen templates that allow for instant student interactions.

“With just a couple clicks students can challenge each other with a round of speed math, make a timeline of their day, or brainstorm topics in word webs,” she said.

Woulf also appreciates the extra bells and whistles these devices have, such as the “simple built-in features like the timer and drawing features.”

Priorities have been made to install BenQ panels in classrooms at the early ages first. Sixteen have been installed in the Peshtigo Schools so far, with more scheduled to be installed this summer.

Amanda Benson said, “Anything to make the classroom more efficient, whether for me or for students, is a win for me.”


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Marinette students return to school in person

MARINETTE—Students in the Marinette School District in grades 6-12 have returned to in-person learning five days per week.

Since the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, the district has been planning to return all students to a full-time, in-person learning model, when deemed safe to do so. Grades 4K-5 have been attending in-person, five days per week since the beginning of the school year, and grades 6-12 returned to an in-person learning model, four days per week from a hybrid learning model March 1.

“With the transition of grades 6-12 to an in-person learning model, we have seen success with limiting the transmission of the COVID-19 virus within our school setting through the use of our mitigating practices,” said Superintendent Corry Lambie.

Based upon the district’s continued review of internal and local COVID-19 data, Lambie said the district made the determination that it could safely transition students in grades 6-12 to a five day, in-person learning model, beginning April 12.

High School Principal Justine Braatz said, “Our Marinette High School students have done an awesome job settling into the increased in-person learning. It’s so nice to have the school buzzing with students and hearing them converse and laugh once again. Special, engaging school activities such as our Springfest Goosechase involving staff, students and parents, along with the start of the spring sports season, came right at the perfect time.”

Lambie said that students and staff have done an excellent job continuing to follow and honor the safety expectations and mitigating practices, allowing the district to continue to maintain its safe learning environments.

“We want to share our gratitude for the patience, understanding and support our students, families and staff have demonstrated throughout the school year,” he said. “With the month of March marking one full year since all of our students, 4K-12, were served five days per week in an in-person learning model, this is a great moment for our students, families, and staff.”

Lambie said district administration will continue to monitor internal and local data pertaining to COVID-19, as well as collaborating with local and county medical experts. The district shared its updated reconnecting plans with families in the district on March 30, and will continue to communicate any updates with parents and families.


Kira Brown puts the finishing touches on a window display promoting a “Six Buck Cluck” chicken special Thursday at Jack’s Fresh Foods on Roosevelt Road in Marinette.


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PFAS precursors and health

EagleHerald staff writer A BIT OF PFAS PRECURSOR CHEMISTRY PFAS represents a family of human-produced chemicals that includes over 4,700 substances. For decades, industry and manufacturers used them in numerous consumer products including non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and certain types of firefighting foam. These contaminants have made their way into the environment. Through spills, discharges of PFAS-containing into wastewater treatment plants (by permit), landfill runoff, and from certain types of firefighting foams, PFAS do not break down in the environment and have been discovered in concentrations of concern in groundwater, surface water and drinking water. They are also known to bioaccumulate in fish and wildlife tissues and accumulate in the human body, posing several risks to human health. More specifically, the current version of the CLEAR Act addresses six types of PFAS under a combined enforcement standard of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) in drinking water and a 20 ppt combined enforcement standard in groundwater. They include PFOA and PFOS, two of the most historically used and intensely researched PFAS chemicals. Scientific research reveals strong links between these substances and adverse health effects in humans. Those effects include fetus developmental issues, kidney and testicular cancer, liver damage, immune effects, thyroid disorders and other issues. Additionally, the enforcement standards also include FOSA, NEtFOSE, NEtFOSA and NEtFOSAA, which according to a Wisconsin Department Health Services represent precursor chemicals to PFOS. In a November 2020 letter addressed to the DNR from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), the DHS stated that as precursor substances to PFOS, “they are known to turn into PFOS in the body and in the environment. Exposure to high levels of PFOS is associated with a number of negative health effects in people and research animals.” Moreover, those six PFAS persist for long periods (years) in the body and decades in the environment due to half-lives that can reach up to five to eight years. Excretion from the body can be extremely slow. FOSA, NEtFOSE, NEtFOSA and NEtFOSAA are a subgroup of PFAS found in many of the same products as PFOA and PFOS. They represent impurities in stain repellents, food packaging and some fire-fighting foams.

PFAS precursors and health

{child_byline}By JOHN LIESVELD

EagleHerald staff writer

jliesveld@eagleherald.com{/child_byline}

A BIT OF PFAS PRECURSOR CHEMISTRY

PFAS represents a family of human-produced chemicals that includes over 4,700 substances. For decades, industry and manufacturers used them in numerous consumer products including non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and certain types of firefighting foam. These contaminants have made their way into the environment. Through spills, discharges of PFAS-containing into wastewater treatment plants (by permit), landfill runoff, and from certain types of firefighting foams,

PFAS do not break down in the environment and have been discovered in concentrations of concern in groundwater, surface water and drinking water. They are also known to bioaccumulate in fish and wildlife tissues and accumulate in the human body, posing several risks to human health.

More specifically, the current version of the CLEAR Act addresses six types of PFAS under a combined enforcement standard of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) in drinking water and a 20 ppt combined enforcement standard in groundwater.

They include PFOA and PFOS, two of the most historically used and intensely researched PFAS chemicals. Scientific research reveals strong links between these substances and adverse health effects in humans. Those effects include fetus developmental issues, kidney and testicular cancer, liver damage, immune effects, thyroid disorders and other issues.

Additionally, the enforcement standards also include FOSA, NEtFOSE, NEtFOSA and NEtFOSAA, which according to a Wisconsin Department Health Services represent precursor chemicals to PFOS.

In a November 2020 letter addressed to the DNR from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), the DHS stated that as precursor substances to PFOS, “they are known to turn into PFOS in the body and in the environment. Exposure to high levels of PFOS is associated with a number of negative health effects in people and research animals.”

Moreover, those six PFAS persist for long periods (years) in the body and decades in the environment due to half-lives that can reach up to five to eight years. Excretion from the body can be extremely slow.

FOSA, NEtFOSE, NEtFOSA and NEtFOSAA are a subgroup of PFAS found in many of the same products as PFOA and PFOS. They represent impurities in stain repellents, food packaging and some fire-fighting foams.


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