Officials with the town of Campbell are asking the city of La Crosse to test all private wells on French Island for PFAS contamination to better determine the extent of the pollution.
Earlier this year, La Crosse officials identified that 108 private wells tested on the island showed some levels of contamination from PFAS, a “forever chemical” found in firefighting foam that was used at the La Crosse Regional Airport on the island.
More than 40 of those wells showed levels above the relatively new standards set in place by the state, and officials said they would pay to test about 50 more wells to better understand the boundaries of where the contamination took place.
The investigation into the pollution has been largely kept to an area just south of the airport, where researchers have identified is the downstream track of the contaminated water.
But town of Campbell residents and leaders are saying it’s not enough, asking for wider scope on the investigation.
“Every day that goes by without complete testing, is a day that more than 4,000 men, women and children bear the agonizing uncertainty of knowing whether their water is safe to drink,” the town said in a statement.
“4,000 residents deserve to know they are not being poisoned by PFAS contamination,” it said, asking the city to do the “humane and honorable thing.”
City officials have indicated they don’t believe the contamination could have occurred outside of the area researchers have identified, and have said that if pollution is found elsewhere, the city would likely be “off the hook,” having likely not originated from its airport.
Researchers have indicated that the price tag for testing can be spendy, and one sample can cost up to $300, but the full process can be closer to $1,000 per test. The city’s next round of testing is expected to cost around $51,500.
Initial legal steps have been taken by both residents on the island and the city of La Crosse for the pollution, and mitigation discussions are slow moving so far.
“Once we know the full extent and scope of the contamination, we can move forward to create a plan which ensures our residents have access to safe drinking water,” the town of Campbell wrote in its letter.
In a response email, Mayor Kabat told the Tribune that addressing the PFAS contamination is the “highest priority” for the city, urging cooperation with the town.
“To date, there is no evidence that contamination at the airport has resulted or could result in PFAS contamination either north or west of the airport. But even so, to the extent PFAS has been found in those areas, the city of La Crosse will assist the WDNR and the town board in any way possible to uncover the sources of that contamination and protect the health and safety of our communities,” Kabat said.
Kabt detailed that although it’s possible there may be more PFAS contamination outside of the airport zone, the origin of the pollution could be from a number of different sources.
“PFAS contamination can result from numerous sources, including landfills or industrial waste, and are found in numerous household and commercial products such as Teflon pots and pans, Gortex, and stain-resistant carpet,” he said.
This story was updated at 4 p.m. to include comments from Mayor Kabat.
"Every day that goes by without complete testing, is a day that more than 4,000 men, women and children bear the agonizing uncertainty of knowing whether their water is safe to drink."
Town of Campbell statement.
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