EagleHerald Staff Writer

MARINETTE—Johnson Controls Inc. and its subsidiary Tyco Fire Controls, LP (JCI/Tyco) declined last month the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) request for said parties to take over potable well testing in the Expanded Site Investigation Area (ESIA).

JCI/Tyco also declined to take over the DNR’s provision of water for residents in the ESIA who have known elevated levels of PFAS in their wells.

The DNR officially requested for the first time in February 2020 that JCI/Tyco sample potable wells in the ESIA, which is bounded by Leaf Road in the south, Pleasant View Road to the west, the City of Marinette municipality boundary to the north and the Bay of Green Bay to the east. JCI/Tyco declined this initial request, following which the DNR stepped in and sampled 415 wells in the area, 32 of which contained PFAS levels above the Wisconsin Department of Health Service’s Cycle 11 list of recommended groundwater standards. The DNR has since been providing bottled water to these households.

JCI/Tyco claimed in their Dec. 23 letter responding to the DNR’s most recent request for potable well sampling as well as in previous letters that PFAS contamination detected in the ESIA did not originate in Tyco’s historic firefighting foam testing and therefore isn’t their responsibility to address.

“After reviewing the geological makeup of the area, including how groundwater and surface water flows from one location to another, the data do not support the notion that PFAS from the FTC could have physically migrated from our property to the ESIA,” Former JCI/Tyco Remediations Programs Director Jeffrey Danko wrote. (JCI/Tyco informed the DNR Jan. 4 that a new director, Denice Nelson, has since replaced Danko).

JCI/Tyco stated in an email to the EagleHerald that “no evidence has been presented by the DNR or any other entity” demonstrating that PFAS in the ESIA did come from the FTC.

But JCI/Tyco has yet to investigate—or thoroughly evaluate—all potential pathways for PFAS movement, such as stormwater runoff and airborne migration and deposition, according to the DNR.

Other cases have demonstrated these possibilities. A 2020 study published by the American Chemical Society, for example, found evidence of air dispersion of perfluorooctanoic acid—a type of PFAS—near a Fluoropolymer Production Facility in Parkersburg, W.Va.

“We know that these pathways are possible, and we need more data to draw conclusions about how the PFAS moves,” DNR Complex Sites Project Manager Alyssa Sellwood, who oversees the JCI/Tyco PFAS investigation, said. “Particles can move through the air or surface water then land and move from that new location. There could be broader migration and contamination because of this, that’s the concern. This is particularly important for PFAS because it doesn’t break down.”

JCI/Tyco also cited, however, differences in the composition of PFAS detected closer to Tyco’s Fire Technology Center (FTC) compared to those in the ESIA as evidence that PFAS in the ESIA didn’t originate from Tyco’s historic fire fighting foam testing activities.

But Sellwood said these differences don’t prove definitively that the PFAS didn’t originate from Tyco’s activities.

“The PFAS signature is just one line of evidence,” she said. “It can give some insights, but it’s not a silver bullet. If the compound looks a little different, that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t theirs.”

Over the years, furthermore, Tyco used different formulations of PFAS-containing Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF), a possible cause for different PFAS signatures at various distances from the FTC where the company tested AFFF as fire suppressants.

“The claim that the PFAS isn’t theirs if the signature looks different is something I don’t buy given the range of formulations they have used for their AFFF,” Sellwood said.

In addition, PFAS compounds tend to change characteristics over time and never fully break down, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The DNR’s Oct. 27 letter to JCI/Tyco said that “an analysis that considers time, distance, transformations, and changes in AFFF formulations is needed to draw conclusions on variations in the PFAS signatures” given these variables.

Although JCI/Tyco declined to submit the DNR’s requested potable well long-term monitoring plan, they have agreed to submit by Feb. 4 an Expanded FTC Site Investigation Work Plan.

“As has been the case throughout this process, Tyco wants to support [the DNR’s] work in the ESIA by developing further data to assist [the DNR’s] understanding of the hydrogeology in and around the Expanded Area” and “provide an even more granular look at the PFAS plume associated with the FTC,” JCI/Tyco said in an email statement to the EagleHerald. “The work will further demonstrate that groundwater and surface water emanating from FTC does not reach the ESIA.”

The Work Plan is expected to include a description of field investigation activities to evaluate potential migration pathways; a technical evaluation of potable well testing results for the ESIA and field investigation; updated cross-sections and isoconcentration maps for PFOA and PFOS and a proposed plan and schedule to submit site investigation status reports.