Category Archives: PFAS

Hot Potato: PFAS Forever Chemicals in Madison

Hot potato: PFAS contamination lingers at burn pits as city, county, National Guard contest responsibility

“More than four years after the state Department of Natural Resources warned of toxic “forever” chemicals at former firefighter training sites near the Madison airport, city, county and state officials have yet to begin cleanup amid disputes over who is responsible.

In June 2018, the DNR notified Dane County, the city of Madison and the Wisconsin Air National Guard they may be responsible for PFAS contamination at the sites, which were known as “burn pits” used for firefighter training between the 1950s and 1980s.

Tests of shallow groundwater at the sites found two PFAS compounds at levels thousands of times higher than state standards for drinking water or groundwater, and millions of times what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for drinking water.

The sites on Darwin Road and Pearson Street both drain into Starkweather Creek, which flows into Lake Monona, where health officials have warned anglers to limit consumption of fish because of the chemicals, which have been linked to illnesses including high blood pressure, low birth weight, developmental delays and most recently liver cancer.

The DNR has also ordered the city, county and National Guard to clean up PFAS from other parts of the airport, which is home to Truax Field.

For years, the city and county have deferred to the National Guard, which is investigating PFAS contamination under the federal Superfund law, a process that could take a decade for actual cleanup work to begin.

But when the National Guard Bureau submitted a final plan last spring, the burn pits were not included because the bureau said it was not solely responsible.

Now the DNR is again asking the city, county and Wisconsin National Guard to further investigate the site and determine what, if any, cleanup is required.

‘Hot potato’

The delays come as industry groups have challenged the DNR’s authority to require cleanup of PFAS. A Waukesha County judge ruled in April that the agency must first go through a 2½-year rulemaking process to list the chemicals as hazardous substances, though his order is on hold while under appeal.

Maria Powell, founder of the Madison Environmental Justice Organization, which helped bring the burn pit pollution to light, said city, county and military leaders have been playing “hot potato” with the burn pits since pollution was first documented in the 1980s.

Powell said it would be “almost comical” if not for the “complete disregard” for people — many of them low-income people of color — who live downstream and eat the contaminated fish.

“It’s not funny,” she said. “It’s criminal.”

Long practice

The Darwin Road site was used from 1953 until 1987 to train firefighters with the National Guard, city of Madison, and Dane County, as well as volunteer fire departments, according to a 1989 Corps of Engineers report.

Jet fuel, kerosene and other flammable liquids would be spilled on the ground, set on fire and then extinguished. The report documented an array of hazardous chemicals in the groundwater, though there were no tests for PFAS.

A former firefighter training area, known as a burn pit, on Pearson Street is one of two sites near the Dane County Regional Airport with high levels of PFAS. Both sites drain into Starkweather Creek, which flows into Lake Monona, where anglers have been warned to limit consumption of fish because of contamination.


A second burn pit on Pearson Road was used by various fire departments starting in the late 1980s.

In 2018, the DNR notified the city, county and Guard that the sites were likely contaminated with PFAS and requested an investigation.

DNR spokesperson Sarah Hoye said the agency “didn’t have actual soil or groundwater data from the fire training areas demonstrating a release of a hazardous substance,” which it needs to require a cleanup.

In 2020, an environmental contractor found combined levels of two chemicals — PFOA and PFOS — at more than 68,000 parts per trillion in groundwater at the Darwin Road site and in excess of 20,000 ppt at the Pearson Street site. While Wisconsin does not regulate PFAS in groundwater, the standards for surface water is 8 ppt for PFOS and 95 ppt for PFOA.

City’s stance

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway told the DNR in 2019 that the city should not be responsible for the burn pits, but the DNR maintains that the city provided firefighting services for Truax Field and owned the Darwin Road site until 1974, when the federal government required the use of PFAS foams at military bases.

In March the City Council approved an agreement with the county and Guard to split the cost of a $30,000 investigation — not into the extent of PFAS contamination but “historical PFAS use” at the training areas.

According to the resolution, “a more complete understanding about the historical use of PFAS-containing firefighting materials at the Airport, including at and near the Burn Pits, will be helpful to the parties.”

Rhodes-Conway’s chief of staff, Mary Bottari, said the city is not contesting its responsibility for the site, though its share “has yet to be determined.”

“The city would still like to ultimately see a complete picture of the historical PFAS use at the airport, including at the two firefighting training areas, which a historical investigation could help develop,” Bottari said. “We do know, for example, that other local fire departments trained at the facilities. If we are able to identify those parties, they can help build a complete picture of historic use on the site.”

A former firefighter training area, known as a burn pit, on Darwin Road is one of two sites near the Dane County Regional Airport with high levels of PFAS. Both sites drain into Starkweather Creek, which flows into Lake Monona, where anglers have been warned to limit consumption of fish because of contamination.

It’s not clear when that investigation began or how long it will take.

Bottari said it wouldn’t be “appropriate” for city staff to comment on cleanup plans because the land is owned by the county, which will play the “lead role.”

Update pending

County officials declined to be interviewed about the cleanup plan.

In a written statement, airport spokesperson Michael Riechers said the city, county and Guard are developing “a plan to further investigate the firefighting training areas that will incorporate several facets including investigative efforts already completed and the pilot projects currently underway at the airport.”

Riechers said the county intends to update the DNR next week.

The state Department of Natural Resources has asked the city of Madison, Dane County and the Wisconsin National Guard to clean up firefighter training areas on Pearson Street, above, and Darwin Road that are contaminated with toxic PFAS chemicals.

Maj. Leslie Westmont, a spokesperson for the Air National Guard, referred questions about the burn pits to the National Guard Bureau, the federal agency that excluded them from its cleanup plan for the rest of the base.

The National Guard Bureau did not respond to questions.

Federal process

The bureau is overseeing the base cleanup under the federal Superfund law, a process that could take up to a decade for actual cleanup to begin.

The military has spent about $2 million so far investigating the extent of PFAS contamination at the base and expects the next phase of the investigation will cost almost $2 million more.

Lance Green, co-chair of the Friends of Starkweather Creek and a member of the Sustainable Madison Committee, said he’s been frustrated for years by the lack of action.

“PFAS is fairly new, but everybody knows about sucking the water out of the ground and getting the PFAS out,” Green said. “We need stronger action now to start lowering the contamination. That’s simple.”

DNR spokesperson Sarah Hoye said there’s not enough data to determine if the pollutants have spread from the site, but environmental watchdogs say there’s no reason to believe the highly-mobile chemicals would stay put.

“It can only spread,” Green said. “That’s the thing it does: spread.”

Green said it will take years to reduce PFAS levels in the lakes and fish, but only if the city, county and Guard take immediate action to eliminate the source.

“It continues to move out and it continues to get fish full of PFAS,” he said.

The city council has approved spending $425,000 on a treatment system for one East Side well that was shut down in 2019 because of PFAS contamination, though the Madison Water Utility contended that Truax Field — not the burn pits — is the likely source of that contamination.

Discarded deadlines let polluted plume from military base spread unchecked | Local Government |

County sues

Earlier this year Dane County sued foam manufacturers in an attempt to recover “substantial costs” associated with cleanup of the airport.

The suit claims the defendants knew — or should have known — that using the foam, required by the Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration, would release PFAS to the air, soil and groundwater.

The lawsuit notes the chemicals, which can damage the liver, kidneys and nervous system, spread quickly in the environment, “contaminating soil, groundwater, and surface water” and are “readily absorbed in animal and human tissues.”

In emails with the county’s outside attorney, obtained through an open records request, assistant corporation counsel Amy Tutwiler discusses formulating media “talking points” for “how to respond to the concern that the health effects alleged in the complaint suggest pfas remediation should be occurring at a more rapid pace.”

Those talking points were not provided in response to the records request.

With PFAS cleanup years in the future, National Guard says its moving ‘quickly’ on Truax investigation | Science & Environment |

The county has since sued the DNR in an effort to strike conditions included in the airport’s stormwater permit intended to measure and limit PFAS in water that drains into Starkweather Creek.

The county contends the conditions are illegal because the DNR has already required cleanup under the remediation program and that they would be too costly.

County officials have said they did not know what the additional testing would cost, but according to documents obtained through an open records request it would be about $8,000 a year.

That case is on hold while the DNR conducts an internal review of the permit.”

More on PFAS Forever Chemicals

  1. Home – Madison Environmental Justice (
  2. About 3 — Military Poisons
  3. For decades, polluters knew PFAS chemicals were dangerous but hid risks from public | Environmental Working Group (

Urge Passage of the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics, PACT Act

from Buzz Davis,

Save Our VA – Vets for Peace in Tucson
813 S. Deer Meadow LoopTucson, AZ 85745

How burn pits may have raised veterans’ risk of rare cancers and respiratory illnesses

Twenty-five Republican senators who previously supported a bipartisan bill to expand health care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits reversed their stance on Thursday.

Background:  Honoring our PACT Act of 2021

Another vote is scheduled in Senate – this week 


DAV | Contact your Senator to Vote “YES” on S. 3373, the Honoring Our PACT Act (

Whether it is Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan or on US base water supplies (PFAS) across America, the generals at DOD and many politicians in America do not seem to care if we kill both our own soldiers and their families along will millions of other humans

From: Andrew Marshall, DAV National Commander and Lynn Prosser, Auxiliary National Commander To: Mr. Buzz Davis

Sent: Sat, Jul 30, 2022 8:59 am

Contact your Senator to Vote “YES”

on S. 3373,

the Honoring Our PACT Act

Dear Buzz,

The PACT Act will provide health care and presumptive benefits for veterans exposed to hazardous environments. After years of fighting, we are close to comprehensive toxic exposure legislation. We need your help again to keep the pressure on the Senate to get it passed.

On June 16, the Senate passed the Honoring Our PACT Act 84-14. Unfortunately, due to a procedural issue, the House returned it to the Senate. On June 24, the Senate tried to pass the corrected version; however, that was blocked by one Senator.

The House introduced the Senate version of the PACT Act and on July 13, they passed it out of the House with a vote of 342-88. The bill then went to the Senate. However, on Wednesday July 27, the bill was stopped from going to the Senate floor. Twenty-five Senators who voted to pass the PACT Act on June 16, voted on Wednesday to stop the bill, which has not been changed since the June 16 passage.

The Senate will be voting on the PACT Act on Monday and veterans suffering from illnesses and diseases related to burn pits, radiation exposure and Agent Orange cannot afford to wait. Urge your Senator to vote “YES” on the PACT Act.

Thank you for your support of America’s service-disabled veterans and their families.

Take Action through DAV, Disabled American Veterans 
and contact your elected officials, especially your Senators

Contact – Ron Johnson Senator from Wisconsin (

Contact | U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (

Postpone Request for National Guard: 11 Jan 22 “Open House”


Contact: Tom Boswell, 608/718-7312


Safe Skies Clean Water Asks Air National Guard

and Dane County Airport to Postpone “Open House”


Madison – The Safe Skies Clean Water Coalition has called on the Wisconsin Air National Guard and Dane County Regional Airport to postpone an “Open House” scheduled for Tuesday, January 11, at Madison College. The purpose of the event is to update the public on plans being undertaken by the Wisconsin Air National Guard (WANG) and the National Guard Bureau (NGB) to remediate PFAS pollution originating with the Truax airbase.




This is not the right time to hold this event,” the coalition wrote to Colonel Bart Van Roo, commander of the 115th Fighter Wing at Truax. “We are in the height of another public health crisis. Many of the families who are and will be most impacted by the water pollution and dangerous noise levels of F-35 fighter jets are not likely to further jeopardize their health and safety by attending an indoor event at this moment.”


The coalition is one of several groups that has been advocating for the Air National Guard, Dane County and the City of Madison – all designated by the DNR as responsible parties in the water contamination crisis – to be more forthcoming in communication with the public. But Safe Skies Clean Water said “this is not the appropriate time for this event.”


Representatives of the NGB and a Maryland-based engineering firm are to present information on the remediation process and progress to date and address questions and comments from the public. The event is scheduled for 6 pm at the Mitby Theater on the Truax campus of Madison College.


We are frankly skeptical concerning the motivation of the Air National Guard and Dane County Regional Airport for scheduling this Open House while the pandemic is peaking, the weather is inhospitable, the students and faculty of Madison College are on winter break, and the event was announced during the winter holiday,” said Safe Skies Clean Water.

The Air Force, National Guard Bureau and Air National Guard have proven to be toxic neighbors. Now they plan to initiate yet another assault on our public health by foisting F-35 fighter jets on an already compromised community that doesn’t want them. We are asking the Air Force and Air National Guard to be better neighbors. We know you would rather be protecting us from real threats like pandemics and national disasters rather than making war on us. We ask you to postpone this event and to halt the construction at the airbase until the site investigation and PFAS remediation is completed.”


Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin is a nonprofit coalition of residents and organizations in Madison and Dane County, Wisconsin opposed to the proposed bed down of F-35A fighter jets at Truax Field.

For more, 

“There is a problem.  Let’s put it on the table, get people engaged in it, hold polluters accountable and clean it up.”

  • Dr. Maria Powell, MEJO
  • Brad Geyer, Veterans for Peace, Former WI Air National Guard and US Air Force

WI Environmental Health Network: Forever Chemicals Wisconsin

Madison Environmental Justice: PFAS Related


Opposition to the Military Industrial Complex and F-35 Jets

Get a yard sign 



An Overview

If you are interested in participating or if you have skills to offer such as writing, media, technology or communications, please get back to us at [email protected]

Be involved, get connected.  If you can connect us with those who might be interested in funding our fight, contact us or donate.


Legal Initiatives

1.       Lawsuit #1 filed, challenging the Environmental Assessment on construction at Truax, asserting that it was not legally prepared. Best case scenario: they would have to stop construction and do a a full Environmental Impact Statement.

2.      Lawsuit #2 filed, challenging Environmental Impact Statement on the F-35 basing decision, arguing that the existing EIS uses old documents and does not include new information, including PFAS evidence and stricter noise standards currently under review. A judge will decide whether the record can be extended, with a decision possible next year.

3.       An Environmental Justice Complaint is being drafted. The Air Force is not subject to EJ policies or laws (although it should be), others are subject to it: Air National Guard, Air National Guard Bureau, Dane County, Dane County Airport, and the Governor as Commander in Chief of the Air National Guard.

4.       Our attorney is looking into whether we can file a PFAS suit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) – the public law that creates the framework for the proper management of hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste.