Wisconsin wastewater plants were built to keep pollutants out of the environment
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have found that wastewater treatment plants may accidentally be spreading hazardous chemicals. According to The Chippewa Herald, DNR regulators plan to require 170 public treatment plants to test treated wastewater for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
The DNR wants to understand where the contamination exists in the wastewater because they think PFAS may be leaking through the water treatment process. Sewage treatment processes kill bacteria; however, they cannot eliminate PFAS. According to The Chippewa Herald, PFAS can be found in drinking water contaminated at places like military bases, fire departments and manufacturers.
District managers in the area would like to see more research on PFAS and more advice on testing, according to The Chippewa Herald. Managers are lobbying for federal PFAS standards.
“We’re taking this issue very seriously,” said Michael Mucha, Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District chief engineer and director, to The Chippewa Herald. “There are a lot of interests at play here, and for us to be making these kinds of decisions not knowing all the facts is an uncomfortable area to be in.”
Mucha also said stopping contamination at the source is important. Disposing of the 37 million gal of sewage sludge, biosolids, on the 5,000 acres of fields where crops are grown would be costly for the district.
“Removing PFAS from sludge and incinerating it would add to costs while posing environmental risks,” Mucha told the Herald.
However, there still is uncertainty surrounding how to properly test wastewater for PFAS. DNR Water Quality Manager Adrian Stocks said the DNR is finalizing standards to use private labs to analyze water for PFAS this summer.
“Shouldn’t the priority be on assessing how much PFAS is coming into the plant, being released from the plant into waterways and being spread on farmland?” said Maria Powell, Midwest Environmental Justice Organization director to the Herald. “We need this information as soon as possible to assess risks to public and environmental health.”