Wisconsin Assembly passes bill to combat PFAS pollution

Wisconsin Assembly Republicans hastily put together a bill addressing PFAS contamination and pushed it through to the Senate early Friday, just moments before adjourning for the year.

The bill gives Rep. John Nygren of Marinette cover on the campaign trail this summer. His northeastern Wisconsin district has been hit hard by PFAS groundwater pollution.

PFAS are man-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.

Nygren and Democratic state Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay put together a sweeping bill addressing PFAS contamination in January that called for emergency rules limiting the amount of PFAS in ground and surface water as well as air emissions, grants for municipalities to address PFAS pollution, sampling wildlife for contamination and free blood testing for people living near polluted areas in Marinette, Peshtigo and Porterfield.

The measure sputtered out amid pushback from powerful business groups, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance and the Wisconsin Paper Council.

Nygren said on the Assembly floor Friday morning that the bill’s opponents used "scare tactics" to frighten people into thinking the proposal would cost jobs. He also said it was difficult to gather legislative support for the bill since PFAS contamination is more of a local problem than a statewide issue.

Still, he convinced his fellow Republicans during a break in debate on other bills to let him amend a measure setting bidding requirements for lake rehabilitation projects to address PFAS.

The amendment would require a new University of Wisconsin System freshwater collaborative to study PFAS pollution and report back to the Legislature by Jan. 1. The Assembly passed a bill earlier this week laying out funding for the collaborative. That measure is now in the Senate.

The Department of Natural Resources would have to develop emergency rules for certifying laboratories to test for the presence of PFAS; test for PFAS in municipal water systems and private wells near contaminated sites and provide clean drinking water for people in those areas; and request whatever money it needs to address PFAS in the next state budget.