MADISON, Wis. — The issue of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, gained plenty of attention during last week's State of the State address from Gov. Tony Evers, who pitched spending $100 million to deal with pollution from the so-called “forever chemical” across Wisconsin.

Members of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy spent Tuesday morning listening to experts, from professors to professionals who deal with contamination cleanup.

During the public hearing, much of the conversation focused on the Marinette and Peshtigo areas, where there has been contamination from the Tyco Fire Products plant which is a subsidiary of Johnson Controls.

Johnson Controls plant in Peshtigo, Wis. (Spectrum News 1/Jorge Rodas)

Some of those same chemicals have shown up in the Green Bay area, and researchers believe it could be because of several rivers in the region, as well as the groundwater.

While Tuesday's hearing was not about the governor's spending plans, the testimony could influence how much of a priority the issue becomes for lawmakers who will soon get to work on the state budget in February.

One possible area to be addressed could be the affordability of PFAS-free foam for fire departments.

During the summer of 2019, firefighters used foam containing PFAS to control a fire at the Madison Gas and Electric substation near downtown. Since then, the Madison Fire Dept. has switched to PFAS-free foam. However, small, rural departments cannot afford to do that, which Dave Johnson with North Shore Environmental Construction pointed out to lawmakers Tuesday.

Madison Gas and Electric's substation near downtown caught fire in July 2019. (Spectrum News 1/Anthony DaBruzzi)

Lawmakers will hear more specifics on Feb. 15 when Gov. Evers delivers his budget address. However, the governor has previously called for spending more than $100 million on PFAS using a so-called three-pronged approach:

  • Increase testing, sampling and monitoring
  • Make more resources available when contamination occurs
  • Boost the awareness of Wisconsinites about the dangers of PFAS

The Democratic Minority Leaders of the Assembly and Senate participated in a WisPolitics event Tuesday, during which they mentioned the need to address PFAS in Wisconsin. Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, said both parties should be able to come together on a solution.

“I have met with those folks who cannot drink their water, and I am not willing to say to them that there is nothing that we can do,” Neubauer explained. “So, I hope that we will be able to make some progress because people in every community around the state, you know, know someone.”