On July 20th, Governor Tony Evers filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court against 3 Wisconsin manufacturers and 15 other chemical companies for their use of PFAS, which the state claims has polluted the water and natural resources of Wisconsin.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a family of manufactured chemicals used for their water- and stain-resistant qualities. They can be found in a wide range of products such as clothing, carpets, nonstick cookware, packaging, and firefighting foam. Another quality PFAS are known for is their persistence, remaining in the human body and environment for a long time.
These chemicals typically enter the body through drinking water, and once inside, they can cause havoc. PFAS are linked to types of kidney and testicular cancers, lower birth weights, harm to immune and reproductive systems, altered hormone regulation, and altered thyroid hormones.
On the morning of the 20th, Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul announced the lawsuit at a press conference on French Island, where PFAS have contaminated private wells in the area and its residents have been relying on bottled water for over a year. The lawsuit seeks to reimburse nearly $1 billion spent on addressing “forever chemicals” across communities, efforts which include remediation of the water and soil as well as the money spent on bottled water and filters. Evers and Kaul allege that the 18 companies listed in the lawsuit knew that the intended use of their products would negatively affect public health and the environment but chose not to inform the public, taking measures to instead protect their own employees.
“Wisconsinites should not have to foot the bill for polluters who should have known that what they were doing was wrong all along. That’s why we are demanding that the polluters who are responsible should have to pay for their reckless and reprehensible conduct,” Evers said at the press conference.
One of the many companies listed in the lawsuit is Tyco Fire Products, based in Marinette. Said to be the facility from where the state’s worst PFAS contamination originated, Tyco tested fire fighting foam containing PFAS outdoors from 1962 to 2017. The foam eventually ended up in the soil around the fire training center and in Marinette’s sewer system, swept away into drains. The Department of Justice also filed a lawsuit against Tyco in March, formerly known as Ansul Company.
PFAS compounds have been detected in communities across Wisconsin over the last few years, such as Peshtigo, Wausau, Eau Claire, Milwaukee, Madison, the Town of Campbell and Mosinee. Residents in affected areas have voiced their frustration over the inaction so far on a legislative level, especially in places with private wells. Lee Donahue is one such person.
“It is beyond me how any legislator who’s ever had a family can say ‘I’m not concerned about the health of others. I’m not concerned about young children dying of cancer, of young children being diagnosed with rare forms of cancer.’ These are things that should not happen if we have the ability to change them. And we do have that ability,” said Donahue, a resident of Town of Campbell and a member of the town board.
“Every person in Wisconsin should have access to safe and clean drinking water,” said Attorney General Kaul. He adds that “clean water is fundamental to life in Wisconsin. It’s fundamental to our economy. It’s fundamental to the way we live our lives with so many people using clean water for fishing for other kinds of recreation. And it’s fundamental to our health that we are drinking water that is safe, and that does not cause serious harms to people’s health.”