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City to test wells downstream from La Crosse airport for possible runoff of PFAS contamination
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City to test wells downstream from La Crosse airport for possible runoff of PFAS contamination

The city of La Crosse will offer to sample the drinking water in up to 130 wells near its airport as investigations into chemical pollutants continues.

Officials and environmentalists have been investigating the presence of Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS, in at least two water wells near the La Crosse Regional Airport on French Island, which they believe are from firefighting foam used during trainings.

Wells 23 and 24 have been closed for several years due to the contamination, which officials believe are low-level, but to better understand how far the pollution has spread, will now offer to test surrounding wells for free.

“The city feels that it’s really important that we know the extent of what’s going on,” said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.

“The city of La Crosse takes this very seriously,” he continued. “We’re doing everything we can to protect the public’s health and safety, especially when it comes to their drinking water supply.”

During the first phase of the investigation into this water contamination event, five locations near or at the airport have been identified as source areas, including fire drill test pits, storage areas for the foam, as well as the sites of a plane crash in 2001 and a fuel spill in 1997 where firefighting foam was applied.

“What we found was that the PFAS chemicals are found in each of these areas in the groundwater, in various levels,” said John Storlie, a hydrogeologist with The OS Group, one of the groups investigating the pollution event.

“The proposed standards are very, very low,” he added, saying it’s like “20 eye drops in an olympic-sized pool.”

But the investigation has also revealed that the contamination of the groundwater from the PFAS, which is a type of chemical that does not break down, could be moving downstream to other drinking water sources.

“Because the flow is generally from the northwest to the southeast, the concerns would be for any wells that are downstream from the airport,” Storlie said.

Mayor Tim Kabat


The city will begin offering free tests for between 120-130 private wells in the Island Park neighborhood, just south of the airport, as well as some wells along Fanta Reed and Fishermans Road.

Officials will continue to follow the water table downstream to determine how far the contamination has spread, but doesn’t believe it’s yet reached the Black River based on earlier testing.

If contamination is found from the new samples, the city will offer those residents bottled water until a long-term solution can be found.

Sampling will begin in the next two weeks, and will be offered to any well owners in the outlined neighborhoods, though no one is required to participate.

The city has already spent around $100,000 looking into the PFAS contamination, and plans to ask the La Crosse Common Council for an additional $150,000 in November, but that’s not considering the cost of solving the problem.

“There’s more testing and more clean up or some sort of mitigating action required that will go beyond those dollar amounts,” Storlie said.

“As you can see its very expensive, but obviously,” Kabat said, “the protection of the public health and safety, especially when it comes to drinking water, is paramount, so we’re moving, again, very quickly and hopefully very effectively.”

This new round of sampling is expected to take no longer than a month, and though the city owns the airport, French Island is in the town of Campbell municipality, and Kabat said that its officials, as well as the La Crosse County Health Department, are involved in the process.

Officials said that they will try to sample from outdoor or garden spouts when possible, to avoid entering homes during the pandemic.

Those interested in having their well tested as part of this project can find more information should visit or contact Kabat at 608-789-7500, or The OS Group at 608-668-2718.

A public information meeting also will be held on Oct. 29 at 5 p.m., with more details on the event forthcoming.

"The city of La Crosse takes this very seriously. We're doing everything we can to protect the public's health and safety, especially when it comes to their drinking water supply."

Mayor Tim Kabat


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