EagleHerald Staff Writer
MARINETTE—The investigation into PFAS in groundwater at Waupaca Foundry’s Marinette site at the mouth of the Menominee River might seem to plod along at a snail’s pace, but Waupaca is hoping to clear it up swiftly.
So far, samples have been taken from three locations in the river on south, north and west portions of the site, but not to the east.
A Jan. 28 report by AECOM Technical Services disclosed, “PFAS compounds are present in shallow groundwater across the site.”
PFAS—or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—are chemicals used in a variety of products, from firefighting foam to nonstick cookware. They can build up over time and cause health issues, such as cancer, decreased fertility, developmental delays in children, increased cholesterol levels and risk of obesity, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.
PFAS is the umbrella term used for dozens, if not hundreds, of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances used in the production of many products and packaging and detected in water and fish. They’re called “forever chemicals” because they build up over time. They’ve been linked to cancer and other illnesses and health issues.
But the extent of the PFAS problem at the Waupaca site on the Menominee River and how to resolve it will take time to determine.
As scientists can confirm, the process of gathering information, analyzing it and reviewing it can take months. Resolving and closing the case could take years.
The next investigative activities are expected to take place by July 10, including more sampling, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said. Results are to be submitted with 60 days of the field investigation and receipt of laboratory data.
Then the DNR will provide a review of the information. “We ask for a technical review every time; can you give us feedback? That’s something that costs you extra. There’s a fee associated with it, but we like having something come back from the DNR,” said Bryant Esch, director of environmental engineering at Waupaca Foundry. “Then, when you’re all done, you can be confident the Department of Natural Resources and Waupaca are in agreement,” Esch said.
But Waupaca also wants the process to be efficient. While the Wisconsin legislature hasn’t yet acted on surface water standards of 8 parts per trillion for PFOS and 20 parts per trillion for PFOA for waters used as a public drinking water source and 95 parts per trillion for other surface waters, Waupaca isn’t waiting for the standards to become law.
When groundwater naturally collected at the Changeyard Returns Pit on Sept. 18, 2019 , Waupaca took a sample and sent it to Eurofins in Sacramento, California, for analysis using Michigan’s PFAS-24 list because Wisconsin hadn’t yet formalized its list of 36 PFAS chemicals. These results indicated PFOA at 490 parts per trillion, exceeding the enforcement standard of 20 parts per trillion.
Groundwater sampling in 2020 and 2021 varied by monitoring well location, but most wells placed near the Waupaca facility detected combined PFAS chemical levels that exceeded enforcement standards, according to a report by AECOM.
With the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board’s failure to recommend PFAS limits for groundwater earlier this year, it’s uncertain when standards will be established.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now and disagreement on what the appropriate limitations are,” Esch said. “When it comes down to the property in Marinette, we try to compartmentalize it. We’re not going to go to the DNR and say, ‘We’re not going to talk to you because you don’t have limits (for groundwater). That’s not a tactic we’re going to take. We’re a member of the community.”
“That’s where we are now—cooperative and moving this forward,” he said. “I don’t know what the purpose would be of waiting two or three years. Why not just do it now?”
Following the January report from AECOM, Waupaca received a letter April 11 from the Wisconsin DNR outlining the next steps:
- Two more monitoring wells will be installed east of Ogden Street to determine how far the contamination extends in the river toward the Bay of Green Bay.
- Three new piezometers will be nested about 10 feet below existing monitoring wells and screened from 25 to 30 feet below ground surface. These piezometers are expected to help pinpoint where the PFAS are coming from and to ensure other regional PFAS issues aren’t contributing to the contamination at Waupaca’s site.
- A slug test analysis will be conducted at the monitoring wells.
The site’s location is across the river and east of where the City of Menominee’s effluent enters the water stream. It’s west of the Bay of Green Bay and not far from the Menominee Light House.