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October 17, 2019 – Madison Water Utility has been conducting advanced testing of the city’s 23 water wells looking for a class of chemicals known as “PFAS.” The chemicals are widely used in cookware, food packaging, stain and water-resistant clothing, upholstery and firefighting foams. The compounds do not degrade and are showing up in dust, soil and water worldwide. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has recommended a groundwater standard of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for two types of PFAS called PFOA and PFOS. Levels at all Madison wells fall below this recommended standard.

Madison Water Utility tested its four seasonal wells for dozens of types of PFAS over the summer and received results this week. The utility generally operates seasonal wells during the high-demand summer and fall months. Results show that city’s four seasonal wells do have detections of the chemicals. That brings the total number of wells where PFAS have been found to fourteen.

  • Well 23 on Leo Dr. is rarely used and was last pumped into the water system in the summer of 2017. The well has a mixture of different types of PFAS compounds at low levels. PFOA and PFOS were measured at a combined level of 6.6 ppt.
  • Well 8 in Olbrich Park and Well 17 on S. Hancock St. each have a mixture of PFAS compounds detected at trace levels; most levels are too low to measure accurately.
  • Well 27 on N. Randall Ave. has a mixture of PFAS compounds, all of which are at trace levels too low to measure accurately.

The levels of PFAS found are well below both the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory Level and Interim Wisconsin Groundwater Standards for PFOA and PFOS, both of which are set to protect public health.

Madison Water Utility water quality manager Joe Grande says testing technology has evolved to the point where labs can pick up detections of PFAS at incredibly trace amounts, in the sub-part-per-trillion level.

“The levels are so small. We can demonstrate that there are detectable amounts, but in many cases we can’t quantify those amounts with a lot of certainty,” Grande says.

Madison Water Utility plans to test all the city’s wells for PFAS again in 2020.

PFAS (or per- and poly-fluoroalkyls) have been used an a variety of consumer products for decades. High levels of PFAS exposure have been linked to a variety of health concerns, including increased risk of some types of cancer. So far, PFAS are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the type of advanced testing Madison is carrying out is not required. But Grande insists it’s important for the utility to continue to keep an eye on PFAS levels in Madison’s water.

“I think that there’s a lot of value in the known versus the unknown,” he says. “And there is an expectation that we know as much as possible about our water and that we communicate that to the public.”

Find more testing result details on Madison Water Utility’s PFAS Testing and Information page.


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