original article Laura Schulte
‘Forever chemicals’ from a military installation at Mitchell Airport are a risk to nearby drinking wells, Lake Michigan, a report says
“Despite testing that found “forever chemicals” at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport two years ago, the Department of Defense has yet to move forward with a plan to address the contamination, putting nearby residents with private drinking wells at risk.
The Department of Defense was notified by the state Department of Natural Resources that it was the responsible party for contamination from PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — in ground and surface water near the airport in 2019, but no action has yet been taken, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group.
The environmental advocacy group looked at publicly available data related to PFAS testing at DOD sites across the Great Lakes region and found that several sites, including Mitchell Airport, could be contaminating not only groundwater but the lakes that give the area its name.
Some of the highest levels of the chemicals were found in private drinking wells along the borders of the Milwaukee airport, said Jared Hayes, a policy analyst with the Environmental Working Group. And because no aggressive action has been taken since the discovery of the compounds, some residents in the area may not even know they’re at risk.
The department ordered that the airport needed to determine the source of the contamination, prevent future discharges and develop a cleanup plan. At the time, levels were not high enough to be considered a public health concern, but the department wanted the water utility to monitor levels.
Included in the testing results in 2019 were about six compounds, including PFOA and PFOS, two of the most researched PFAS chemicals.
Though recommendations at the time called for wastewater utilities to start measuring for PFAS, no such rules have yet been instituted, because the utilities are not the source of chemicals but merely a receiver as the chemicals are washed down drains across the state.
Milwaukee isn’t the only city to face a PFAS contamination stemming from its airport. In Madison, contamination stemming from the Dane County Regional Airport — where the 115th Fighter Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard is stationed — has been linked to high levels of PFAS in a nearby lake and some nearby wells.
On French Island, which is home to the La Crosse Regional Airport on one side and the Town of Campbell on the other, over a thousand people are receiving bottled water after PFAS were found in private drinking water across the island. Research into the airport’s past has shown that ongoing testing of PFAS-containing firefighting foam and foam used to put out blazes caused by plane crashes are likely responsible for most of the contamination.
PFAS are a family of man-made chemicals used for their water- and stain-resistant qualities in products like clothing and carpet, nonstick cookware, packaging and firefighting foam. The family includes 5,000 compounds, which are persistent, remaining both in the environment and the human body over time.