Con­tam­i­nants from John­son Con­trols sub­sidiary flow into Green Bay

1,000-page re­port de­tails lev­els of in­dus­trial pol­lu­tion in soil, wa­ter

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Front Page - Lee Bergquist

A new re­port from a John­son Con­trols sub­sidiary that man­u­fac­tures fire­fight­ing chem­i­cals in north­east­ern Wis­con­sin pro­vides the clear­est ev­i­dence to date that con­tam­i­nants from com­pany op­er­a­tions are flow­ing into Green Bay at mul­ti­ple points.

The anal­y­sis shows per­flu­o­ri­nated chem­i­cals — pollutants that are un­der grow­ing scru­tiny na­tion­ally — have been found in nu­mer­ous lo­ca­tions in Marinette in ground­wa­ter, soil and five free-flow­ing ditches where wa­ter di­rectly en­ters the bay.

In some cases, test re­sults of both ground­wa­ter and wa­ter in the ditches for one key com­pound greatly ex­ceed a fed­eral health ad­vi­sory for drink­ing wa­ter over a life­time.

In one ex­am­ple, ground­wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion was found to be more than 47,000 per­cent higher than the fed­eral ad­vi­sory.

The re­sults prompted Tyco Fire Prod­ucts last month to pro­pose a plan to in­stall treat­ment sys­tems in two ditches to keep more chem­i­cals from en­ter­ing the bay.

That work has not yet started, but the com­pany says it plans to con­duct cleanup ef­forts, in­clud­ing this win­ter.

In ad­di­tion to the treat­ment sys­tems, a Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources of­fi­cial said this week the agency hasn’t set­tled on a long-term strat­egy with Tyco to clean up the con­tam­i­na­tion.

“That is the mil­lion-dol­lar ques­tion,” said Steve Ales, the DNR’s field op­er­a­tions man­ager for re­me­di­a­tion and rede­vel­op­ment. “I don’t have an an­swer for that.”

Ales cau­tioned that it is still early in a process that be­gan in Novem­ber 2017 when Tyco be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ex­tent of pol­lu­tion out­side of one of its fa­cil­i­ties. He said other states are also strug­gling with how best to clean up such con­tam­i­na­tion.

DNR of­fi­cials said Tyco’s pol­lu­tion prob­lems are the only in­stances in Wis­con­sin where per­flu­o­ri­nated chem­i­cals are known to be flow­ing into pub­lic wa­ter­ways.

Per­flu­o­ri­nated chem­i­cals have po­ten­tially harm­ful health ef­fects and their use in prod­ucts are wide­spread, rang­ing from fire re­tar­dants to non­stick pans.

Health risks feared

A fed­eral draft re­port re­leased in June found chem­i­cals like those com­ing from the Tyco site—per flu oro oct anoic acid, or PFOA, and per­flu­o­rooc­tane­sul­fonic acid, or PFOS — could be a greater pub­lic health risk than pre­vi­ously known.

Epi­demi­ol­ogy stud­ies sug­gest that the com­pounds are as­so­ci­ated with in­creased risk of preg­nancy-in­duced hy­per­ten­sion, liver dam­age, thy­roid disease, asthma, de­creased fer­til­ity, some can­cers and a de­cline in re­sponse to vac­cines.

The chem­i­cals have been used by Tyco for decades. The com­pany has been op­er­at­ing a train­ing cen­ter south­west of the cen­ter of Marinette since the early 1960s where fire sup­pres­sants have been sprayed, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany. That prac­tice has been sus­pended, the com­pany said.

Tyco also op­er­ates a man­u­fac­tur­ing plant along the Menom­i­nee River in the cen­ter of town. Tyco has also found chem­i­cals in ground­wa­ter in mon­i­tor­ing wells at the plant.

Tyco pro­vided a site in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­port to the DNR last month that de­tailed the ex­tent of con­tam­i­na­tion in soil, ground­wa­ter and sur­face wa­ter in ar­eas of Marinette and the Town of Peshtigo. The DNR posted more than 1,000 pages of the re­port late Fri­day.

The re­port shows con­tam­i­na­tion above the EPA health ad­vi­sory far­ther south of Marinette than pre­vi­ously known, but the DNR and Tyco said the re­sults might be in er­ror and will be retested.

Trou­bling lev­els

In ad­di­tion to the treat­ment sys­tems, a Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources of­fi­cial said this week the agency hasn’t set­tled on a long-term strat­egy with Tyco to clean up the con­tam­i­na­tion. “That is the mil­lion-dol­lar ques­tion,” said Steve Ales, the DNR’s field op­er­a­tions man­ager for re­me­di­a­tion and rede­vel­op­ment. “I don’t have an an­swer for that.”

In some cases, the re­sults show ex­tremely high con­cen­tra­tions of the per­flu­o­ri­nated com­pounds.

An ex­treme ex­am­ple: A test of ground­wa­ter at a depth of 35 feet to 40 feet this sum­mer showed PFOA con­cen­tra­tions at 33,000 parts per tril­lion.

The U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s health ad­vi­sory for drink­ing wa­ter is 70 parts per tril­lion.

Wa­ter in a nearby ditch a half-mile from Green Bay showed re­sults of 3,800 parts per tril­lion and 1,700 parts per tril­lion on May 30 and July 12, re­spec­tively. The ditch was con­structed decades ago and is now es­sen­tially a stream.

An­other sam­ple in the ditch near the Green Bay shore­line showed sim­i­lar lev­els of pol­lu­tion.

The DNR’s Ales said the ground­wa­ter is a source of wa­ter for the ditch.

Tyco has said that the ditches are not a source of drink­ing wa­ter.

In July, Tyco be­gan of­fer­ing wa­ter treat­ment sys­tems to any prop­erty owner whose pri­vate well con­tained the chem­i­cals — re­gard­less of whether it ex­ceeded the cur­rent fed­eral life­time health ad­vi­sory.

In ad­di­tion, trace amounts of the chem­i­cals have also been de­tected in Marinette's mu­nic­i­pal drink­ing wa­ter, ac­cord­ing to city and DNR records. Of­fi­cials say, how­ever, that the lev­els are ex­tremely low and not con­sid­ered a dan­ger to pub­lic health.

Res­i­dents alarmed

The find­ings of the chem­i­cals have raised some con­cerns lo­cally.

A for­mer mayor, Doug Oitzinger, said he believes the DNR and cur­rent city of­fi­cials need to do more to up­date the pub­lic.

Tyco says it will con­tinue to pro­vide pe­ri­odic up­dates and posts in­for­ma­tion on a web­site.

“I don’t think peo­ple in the city are rec­og­niz­ing that we have a prob­lem and all of this stuff is flow­ing into the bay,” Oitzinger said.

The cur­rent mayor, Steve Genisot, said lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have looked to Tyco and the DNR to pro­vide tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise. He said he would like to see the DNR pro­vide more di­rec­tion when it comes to shar­ing in­for­ma­tion with the pub­lic.

The DNR says it is con­sid­er­ing sched­ul­ing a pub­lic meet­ing af­ter the agency has fully an­a­lyzed the re­sults.

An­other res­i­dent with con­cerns is Jeff La­mont, a re­tired hy­dro­ge­ol­o­gist with ex­pe­ri­ence in toxic cleanups. He lives in Marinette part of the year. His well is con­tam­i­nated by the chem­i­cals.

“I hate to be a doom and gloomer, but the ex­tent of the con­tam­i­na­tion is much more sig­nif­i­cant than we knew and now we know it’s poop­ing out into Green Bay,” La­mont said.

He ex­pressed frus­tra­tion that wa­ter from the bay isn’t be­ing tested and that sam­ples of fish tis­sue haven't been taken.

Ales said wa­ter test­ing in Green Bay and sam­pling of fish could be part of the next phase of the project.

But he also said that if com­pounds were found in the lake, they could be com­ing from other sources.

The pres­ence of per­flu­o­ri­nated com­pounds in con­tem­po­rary life is “pro­lific,” he said.

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