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Eau Claire shuts down nearly half of wells due to PFAS contamination

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Military firefighting foam, contributed generic file photo

Firefighting foam, which is being used in this 2013 photo from a North Carolina military base, is among the sources of PFAS contamination.

EAU CLAIRE — The city of Eau Claire has shut down almost half its wells due to PFAS contamination.

The city announced in July that it had shut down four of its 16 wells after tests found PFAS levels exceeded the groundwater standard of 20 parts per trillion as recommended by state health officials. Now the city, whose French name translates to “clear water,” has closed down three more wells after more tests showed they’re contaminated with a mix of PFAS chemicals, Wisconsin Public Radio reported Tuesday.

PFAS are chemicals found in firefighting foam as well as in many types of food packaging. The chemicals don’t break down in nature and have been linked to cancer and fertility problems.

The state Department of Natural Resources believes the PFAS contaminating Eau Claire’s wells stem from firefighting foam used at the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport. The department directed the airport to investigate in August.

Meanwhile, the department is trying to find ways to contain contamination, DNR hydrogeologist Matt Thompson said. The city is currently pumping about 5 million gallons per day from three wells into lagoons to prevent the pollution from migrating to clean wells.

PFAS contamination has been a problem in other Wisconsin municipalities, most notably Madison, Marinette and French Island, adjacent to La Crosse. The DNR estimates the state will have to spend between $500,000 and $600,000 annually to supply island residents with bottled water, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday.

DNR officials are worried the cost is so high it will pull money away from other PFAS investigations and evaluations.

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