French Island residents near airport get wells tested for PFAS

Published: Jan. 12, 2021 at 6:41 PM CST
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Many people on La Crosse County’s French Island are concerned about high contamination levels of PFAS affecting their well water.

The contamination is believed to be coming from firefighting equipment being used nearby.

“It has to do with the health of our residents and the safety of their water to use for drinking, cooking and bathing,” said Mitch Brohmer, Town of Campbell utilities supervisor.

Brohmer has seen the impact caused by PFAS on French Island, after the City of La Crosse discovered chemicals in municipal wells near the La Crosse Regional Airport in 2020.

PFAS is a chemical foam used by firefighters since the 1970s including for training on airport premises, and are a major cause for contamination of nearby residents’ private wells.

“PFAS is becoming a major problem across the country—but it’s particularly a major problem for communities like us who don’t have a municipal water system,” Brohmer said.

That is why the city partnered with John Storlie, a groundwater geologist with environmental consulting firm The OS Group to start testing about 130 residents’ wells last fall.

“Private water sampling began in late October 2020 and has continued up until last week and we’ll continue to sample those private wells in the target sampling areas,” said Storlie.

“Some of the wells tested above what’s acceptable and some below, it’s about half and half,” Brohmer added. “If they’re above 20 parts per trillion makes the water unsafe to drink.”

“[Long-term exposure can lead to] concerns like thyroid problems, higher cholesterol levels and even long term risk of cancer,” said Storlie.

The city plans to continue sampling about 50 wells both west of the airport and to the south of I-90 within the next few weeks.

“We’re very early in the process at this point,” said Brohmer. “PFAS is a forever chemical, it doesn’t break down, so it’s going to be a problem for some time.”

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