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Wisconsin lawmakers poised to adopt restrictions on firefighting foam

Wheeler on biggest environmental threat

Madison — Wisconsin lawmakers are poised to pass a bill that would impose new restrictions on the use of firefighting foam containing chemicals known as PFAS to reduce soil and water contamination.

Both the Senate and Assembly are scheduled to vote on the Republican-authored proposal Tuesday. The GOP controls both houses, making passage all but certain. The bill would go next to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who can sign it into law or veto it.

Evers' spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff didn't respond to an email asking whether he supports the bill. Evers has made improving water quality a priority, though; he signed an executive order in August directing the Department of Natural Resources to develop regulatory limits on PFAS. The DNR's board is set to vote Wednesday on whether to authorize the department to begin drafting those standards.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that research suggests can decrease female fertility, increase the risk of high blood pressure in pregnant women and lower birth weights. The chemicals have been used for decades in a range of products, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers and stain-resistant sprays.

The chemicals have drawn more scrutiny in recent years as potentially toxic contaminants in ground and surface water.

Tyco Fire Products discovered in 2013 that soil and well contamination on its Marinette fire training property contained PFAS and four years later acknowledged that the chemicals had spread beyond the facility. The company began distributing bottled water to residents whose wells may have been contaminated.

Traces of PFAS also have been found in a number of wells in Madison. State health officials recently warned people to limit consumption of fish from Madison's Lake Monona due to PFAS contamination. The state Department of Natural Resources hasn't identified the source, but firefighters have trained with foam for years at the Dane County Regional Airport.

Under the bill, the use of firefighting foam containing intentionally added PFAS would generally be prohibited except in emergency fire situations. Firefighters would have to train with foam or other substances that don't contain the chemicals. Foam containing PFAS could be used in testing as long as the testing facility has implemented DNR-approved containment and disposal measures to prevent releases into the environment.

Violators would face forfeitures of up to $5,000 per incident.

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