The WMC’s toxic spill decision is a benefit to public health

Thanks to a recent ruling by Waukesha County Court, thousands of Wisconsin residents whose private wells have been contaminated with toxic PFAS chemicals are sleeping a little better, knowing they won’t lose access to the bottled water they rely on.

The court ruling suspended the April ruling, which limited the state’s powers to deal with PFAS pollution under the Wisconsin Spill Act. The latter decision does not allow this decision to take effect, which means that the Ministry of Natural Resources (DNR) can continue to investigate and clean PFAS – toxic chemicals found in Teflon and other products – when soil and water contamination is detected. . This also means that the DNR can continue to provide aid, including bottled water, to families whose private wells have been poisoned.

The solution is the latest development in a lawsuit filed by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), the largest business lobby in the state. The WMC has filed a lawsuit against DNR in an attempt to limit the agency’s ability to investigate PFAS pollution and to demand that responsible parties clean up the contaminated sites. In April, the district court sided with the WMC, although it agreed to suspend the decision in response to fears it could endanger public health.

My organization, the Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA), subsequently filed a “friend of the court” statement arguing for an extension of the stay pending an appeal to a higher court by the DNR. The MEA is involved in the case on behalf of a group of environmentalists and public health advocates. We are convinced that DNR’s efforts to keep families in Wisconsin safe from PFAS pollution will ultimately be justified through the appeals process. In the meantime, suspending the decision will limit the physical, mental and economic damage suffered by those living in and around PFAS pollution sites in Wisconsin.

PFAS exposure is associated with an increased risk of developing serious health problems such as cancer, reproductive problems, thyroid disease, immune system problems and more. Postponing the April ruling while the appellate courts hear the case is a sensible way to minimize those risks, said Dr. Beth Niary, co-chair of the Wisconsin Environmental Health Network, one of our clients in the case. As a pediatrician who cares deeply about children’s health, Dr. Niri has spent her career educating families. and other health professionals on the importance of minimizing children’s exposure to environmental toxins. While exposure to all kinds of hazardous substances can endanger a child’s health, exposure to “forever chemicals” is a particularly sinister threat. This is because it cannot be undone once it happens.

Another client, former Marinette Mayor Doug Oetzinger, continues to play an important role in organizing and educating his community following the discovery of widespread PFAS pollution from the Tyco / Johnson Controls fire drill. For Marinette residents, allowing the district court’s decision to take effect would slow down the critical work currently being done by DNR staff to identify and clean up the pollution. Meanwhile, highly mobile PFAS chemicals would continue to migrate through groundwater, threatening to contaminate even more wells and endanger the health of even more families.

Marinette is one of the many communities in Wisconsin with a stake in the outcome of this case. If the WMC prevails in undermining the Spill Act, families in Peshtigo, Rhinelander, Campbell and nearly a hundred other communities will face the prospect of having to deal with PFAS pollution on their own. Wisconsin will be forced to return to the dark ages of environmental protection, where we can stay for a very long time. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to make sure this does not happen.


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