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Wisconsin board delays rules on new PFAS restrictions

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Environmental regulators in Wisconsin voted Wednesday to table rules setting new restrictions on firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals.

The Department of Natural Resources’ policy board made the decision in a unanimous vote, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The department has estimated local governments and businesses would have to spend about $2.3 million annually to comply with the regulations on containment and disposal of the chemicals amid objections from industry groups and Republican lawmakers.

The department drafted the regulations in response to a law that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed in February that bans the use of firefighting foam except in emergencies and testing at facilities with DNR-approved containment and disposal protocols.

The law goes into effect Sept. 1 and requires the department to enact emergency regulations by Sept. 7. With the regulations tabled, the law will go into effect without definitions of containment and disposal measures.

Business groups including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Paper Council sent the board a letter on Friday claiming the DNR doesn’t have the authority to limit PFAS in wastewater and department’s effluent limits aren’t based on science.

State Sen. Steve Nass and Rep. Joan Ballweg, Republicans who co-chair the Legislature’s rules committee, echoed those concerns.

DNR Secretary Preston Cole told the board that the department would begin discussions with industry stakeholders immediately.

PFAS are human-made chemicals that research suggests can decrease female fertility, increase the risk of high blood pressure in pregnant women and lower birth weights. The chemicals have been used for decades in a range of products, including firefighting foam, nonstick cookware, fast-food wrappers and stain-resistant sprays.

Parts of Marinette County, including Marinette, Peshtigo and Porterfield, have been hard hit with PFAS pollution believed to have originated from firefighting foam. Tyco Fire Products, a unit of Johnson Controls, discovered in 2013 that soil and well contamination on its Marinette fire training property contained PFAS. Four years later, the company acknowledged the chemicals had spread beyond the facility.

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