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District 19

Alder Keith Furman

Image of Alder Keith Furman,
Council President

Alder Keith Furman,
Council President

Contact Information

Council Office

Common Council Office:
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Room 417
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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District 19 Blog

Frequently Asked Questions about PFAS

February 8, 2019 5:56 PM

Frequently Asked Questions about PFAS

From Madison Water Utility:

We have received many questions related to PFAS detected in water at two wells, so we have created an FAQ page that will be updated as needed. 

Please note that all PFAS testing results will be distributed to our PFAS Testing & News email list, so if you know anyone who would like to receive information on this topic, please encourage them to sign up. Just enter an email in the sign up box on the right hand side of our PFAS Info Page. In 2019, we plan to test all city wells for PFAS chemicals, and these results will also be distributed to the email list and posted online. And we will be sending out information about public meetings on PFAS as they are scheduled.

Take a look at the FAQs below which is current as of 2/8/2019. Future updates will be at: the Water Utility's Site.

  • What are Perflourinated Compounds?

Perflourinated compounds are part of a widely-used class of chemicals known as PFAS, or Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyls. These chemicals are used in food packaging, stain resistant clothing, firefighting foams and nonstick cookware. In 2017, trace levels of PFAS were found at two wells – Well 16 on Mineral Point Rd. and Well 15 off East Washington Avenue. The EPA has established a health advisory level for two types of PFAS, PFOA and PFOS, of 70 parts per trillion. The combined concentration of PFOA and PFOS at Well 15 is 10 parts per trillion. No PFOA or PFOS was detected at Well 16.The EPA health advisory level is a guideline meant to ensure the safety of water over a lifetime of consumption. These chemicals are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

  • Is there a home filter that can be used to reduce the level of PFAS in drinking water?

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Health tested a small, in-home granular activated carbon (GAC) filter for PFAS removal. You can view the results here. pdf 

The agencies report that this type of filter was effective at removing PFC or PFAS from drinking water. A filter certified to meet ANSI/NSF P473 will reduce PFOA & PFOS down to the EPA Health Advisory Level of 70 parts-per-trillion. However, detections of PFOA & PFOS at Well 15 are 11 parts-per-trillion, already significantly lower than the health advisory level.

As the Minnesota study showed, any filter will lose its effectiveness over time so it is important to install and maintain filters according to the manufacturer instructions

While not specifically rated and/or certified for PFAS removal, some types of activated carbon (charcoal) and reverse osmosis filters might also reduce PFAS levels in water.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has put together a fact sheet detailing in-home PFAS filtration methods

  • Nine other states are setting their own standards for PFAS in drinking water. How do PFAS regulations in other states compare with levels found in Madison?

Well 15 levels are currently lower than regulatory levels set in Minnesota, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and North Carolina. They are not lower than the standard set in Vermont. Click here to see PFAS guidance set in other states and look at how levels at Well 15 compare. pdf 

  • Will Wisconsin set its own drinking water standard for PFAS?

We expect the DNR to set a drinking water standard for PFAS sometime this spring or summer. It's our understanding that the standard will be for two types of PFAS chemicals – PFOA and PFOS. But it is possible that state standards could be set for other types of PFAS in the future.

It's also possible that Well 15 will be in compliance with the regulatory level set by the state for PFAS, particularly a level that only looks at PFOA and PFOS, which are currently detected in Well 15 at 11 parts-per-trillion.

  • Can Well 15 be shut down until further investigation and action is made in the cleanup of source contamination at Truax?

Yes. It is possible to shut down Well 15 and use other wells to supply water to the area.

Shutting down Well 15 would reduce the overall reliability of the water supply system on the east and north sides of Madison during summer months (the area east of the Yahara River, from the northern city limits to Buckeye Rd). In 2018, Well 15 pumped 370 million gallons of water into the system. Less than one percent of the water pumped is consumed. The rest is used for fire protection capacity, sanitation, cleaning, irrigation, etc.

Madison Water Utility looks to Public Health Madison Dane County, the DNR, and Wisconsin Division of Public Health for guidance on this and other issues. None of those agencies has suggested that we should consider shutting down Well 15 due to the levels of PFAS detected in its water. A decision to shut down Well 15 would also end Madison Water Utility's testing program for PFAS at the well.

Unfortunately, cleaning up the source of contamination at Truax Air Field will have little immediate impact at Well 15. The PFAS chemicals we're seeing at the well were contained in firefighting foams used at the base decades ago and have traveled through deep groundwater to our well.

  • Can Madison Water Utility immediately take action to ensure there are no longer PFAS chemicals in our water?

The only way for Madison Water Utility to immediately ensure there are no longer PFAS chemicals in city water would be to shut down Well 15 on the east side and Well 16 on the west side. This would impact supply in large parts of the city, particularly during the summer months or if another well were to have a mechanical issue. The loss of Well 16 would result in mandatory limits on water use from May to September and could limit fire protection capacity on the far west side.

  • Can Madison Water Utility remove PFAS at Well 15?

It may be possible to eventually construct a treatment system to remove PFAS from the well water. Activated carbon could remove PFAS from Well 15, which already has an air stripper to remove volatile organic compounds (VOC). However, the building footprint may need to be enlarged, and there is no space available on our property for expansion.

Any wellhead treatment at Well 15 or Well 16 would cost several million dollars and would take a minimum of two years to design and construct. However, we are investigating those options should PFAS levels rise significantly.

  • Will the WI Air National Guard / Dept. of Defense pay for PFAS removal at Well 15?

National Guard officials have informed us that they will not fund PFAS removal at Well 15 unless levels at the well rise above the EPA's Health Advisory Level of 70 parts-per-trillion for PFOA & PFOS. Current levels of PFOA & PFOS at the well are 11 parts- per-trillion.

  • How much PFAS was found at Well 15 and Well 16?

We have so far tested for 18 types of PFAS at Well 15 and detected six. The total concentration of all types detected is 42 parts-pert trillion (or 0.042 parts-per-billion). We do expect that during expanded testing in 2019, we will detected chemical precursors to some types of PFAS already found, which could push total concentrations somewhat higher.

The EPA Health Advisory Level of 70 parts-pert trillion for PFAS is only for two types, PFOA & PFOS. Levels of those two types at Well 15 is 11 parts-per-trillion (0.011 parts-per-billion). 

At Well 16, one type of PFAS was detected, called PFHxS. Levels were measured at 2.4 parts-per-trillion (0.0024 parts-per-billion).

  • Does Well 15 of Well 16 serve my home?

Click here to find out which Madison wells serve your address

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