Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 19, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — If Gov. Tony Evers and his environmental extremist team have their way, Wisconsin could have some of the most stringent drinking water standards on so-called PFAS chemicals in the world — at a potentially devastating and unnecessary cost to businesses, critics say.
PFAS — or Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl substances — are among some 4,000-plus human-made chemicals that have been in use since the the 1940s.
Alarming declarations on PFAS contamination, particularly in groundwater, is the latest rage by raging environmentalists, although only a small number of the chemicals have undergone anything nearing a thorough scientific analysis.
In the PFAS family of chemicals, PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) and PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) — used in the production of carpets, clothing, cookware and more — have been linked to various health problems in lab animals.
The Environmental Protection Agency, under the Obama administration, set advisory PFOS and PFOA limits at 70 parts per trillion. Other states and countries have established more stringent levels, but none would compare to what the Evers administration has laid out.
The state Department of Health Services in July came out with standards limiting drinking water exposure at 20 parts per trillion combined (PFOS and PFOA) with “preventive action” at 2 parts per trillion.
That means a farmer, property owner, business would be mandated to notify the state Department of Natural Resources upon hitting the minuscule 2 ppt threshold. DNR could ultimately order shutting down the farm or the business, or it could demand costly fixes. In many cases, a business or property owner may merely be an unwitting recipient of the chemicals through water flow.
“One of the really important questions for legislators as these DNR rules move forward is, why are they (DNR) so much smarter than the rest of the world,” said Scott Manley, senior vice president of Government Relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. WMC has urged caution in the Evers administration’s blanket approach to PFAS regulation.
Manley notes that the European Union’s drinking water standard on PFAS is 100 parts per trillion individually (for PFOS and PFOA). In Canada, not known for being environmentally lax, the PFOA standard is 200 parts per trillion, and 600 for PFOS.
In May, Kimberly Wise White, a toxicologist for the American Chemistry Council, testified at a U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing. While White said mitigating the risk of PFAS is critical, the overly-broad approaches to regulation would undercut the effort.
“Circumventing rulemaking by developing legislation that directs or requires an agency to bypass its own procedures undermines the very system Congress helped design to ensure an independent and transparent regulatory process,” she said.
White noted a “one-size-fits-all approach” to evaluating PFAS is not scientifically justified. That appears to be precisely what the Evers administration is doing.
“I would argue that what’s driving DNR rules is not sound science, it’s politics and fear and wanting to essentially make the radical environmental groups that supported Gov. Evers’ election happy,” Manley said.