Rothschild’s recent PFAS test results show slight improvement, more mitigation coming

The village previously shut down well 4 which had the highest levels of PFAS
Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 7:45 AM CDT
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ROTHSCHILD, Wis. (WSAW) - The village of Rothschild shared its latest round of testing for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances Wednesday, which showed a slight improvement from its discovery data.

The village held a media briefing via Zoom Wednesday to discuss the latest results from the voluntary PFAS testing, including people from the Department of Health Services, Department of Natural Resources, and the Marathon County Health Department.

The village first tested for PFAS chemicals on Feb. 1. Nearly all of its wells came back with elevated levels, with all wells floating near the state’s recommended health advisory limit of 20 parts per trillion. The water that was coming out of the treatment plant, which combined nearly all of the wells’ water at the time, was also sampled and was found to be at 22.44 ppt.

“We immediately shut down Well #4 because it had the highest concentration of PFAS and diverted Well #6 into our water treatment plant,” Village Administrator, Gary Olsen stated. “The calculations showed that this should have reduced our numbers to be under the recommended levels.”

After making those changes, testing was conducted on Feb. 23 as a way to check whether the mitigation strategy was working. The output from the treatment plant, which does not treat PFAS chemicals at this time, came out at 19.78 ppt., just under the state’s recommended limit.

“So what we did helped, but the hazard index is just barely above 1 at 1.11,” Olsen said.

Rothschild PFAS test results
Rothschild PFAS test results(Village of Rothschild)

”In the environment, these chemicals most often show up as mixtures, not alone,” Nathan Kloczko, the site evaluation program coordinator with DHS explained. “Our research has shown us that many PFAS impact the body in similar ways. So, the hazard index is a tool we use to determine the total risk from these mixtures.”

The hazard index is an equation that takes the levels of each PFAS compound, divided by its health guideline, added together with other PFAS compound levels, divided by its health guideline. For example, PFAS 1/PFAS 2 health guideline + PFAS 2/ PFAS 2 health guideline = the hazard index. If the hazard index comes out to 1 or more, the recommendation is to take action to protect human health. Rothschild’s health index went from 1.26 to 1.11.

“Since this is just over, it doesn’t necessarily mean that people need to just drop everything. Mixing in alternative sources will get, like, a person’s exposure below that threshold,” Kloczko said, “but we do recommend that some action be taken.”

The reason the health index can still be at or above one when levels are below 20 ppt. is because the recommended limit only factors in six PFAS compounds: PFOS, PFOA, FOSA, NEtFOSE, NEtFOSA, and NetFOSSAA. Rothschild has four of those six compounds (the bolded ones) in its water, but it also has other PFAS compounds. While the recommended limit does not factor in those other compounds, the health index does.

“PFAS, in general, is a very large family of chemicals with very similar properties,” Kloczko said. DHS has stated previously that this family of chemicals build on each other in the body, and research shows that the levels of PFAS chemicals in the body go down as consumption of PFAS contaminated water is reduced.

“Our goal, especially when we’re so close is to find a way to permanently get our water supply to be under that hazard index level so that we don’t have to worry about it in the future,” Olsen said.

There are no state or federal PFAS drinking water standards in place, currently. The Environmental Protection Agency is looking at potentially setting a standard to nearly zero, so Olsen said planning for a long-term solution that works towards that end is necessary.

“We’re trying to find out what is the best way to go, the most cost-effective way, so we’re looking at everything right now.”

The village’s water utility committee will be meeting at the end of the month to discuss short and long-term options. There is a potential that Well #4 will be brought back online during the summer months when there is more water demand. The village also has a partnership to sell water to other municipalities, including the village of Kronenwetter, which will begin using Rothschild’s water this summer.

The ensure any mitigation strategies work and to continue monitoring as levels may fluctuate, the village has been advised to test its water supply every three months. To test all of its wells and its treatment plant output costs about $2,600 each round. Currently, that money is coming out of the village’s utility budget, but Olsen said he is saving the receipts and is looking for grant opportunities that could reimburse those expenses. He noted there are not a lot of funding opportunities available right now.

The village tested using the Wisconsin 33 guidance, which could make a difference for which funding the village could be eligible to receive. The municipal testing program the state is running using $600,000 in EPA funding requires that municipalities test using an EPA method. In that program, Kyle Burton with the DNR has said the department plans to fund additional testing using the Wisconsin 33 guidance for municipalities that would need additional testing. He described that money as coming from the DNR’s partnership program with the State Lab of Hygiene.

PFAS are found in water, air, fish, and soil at locations across the nation and the globe. Scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals. Dr. Sarah Yang, the groundwater toxicologist for DHS previously said exposure to high levels of PFAS can increase cholesterol levels, decrease response to certain vaccines, and reduced fertility in women, among other health problems.

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