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Residents concerned about chemicals found in city well

MADISON (WKOW) — Some people in Madison are pushing the city to shut down one of its water wells because tests have found traces of potentially harmful chemicals.

A group of Madison residents have started a petition to persuade the city to shut down Well 15 in Madison.

The petition says there are toxic chemicals in the water there, called PFAS.

According to Madison and Dane County Public Health, the main health concern from PFAS is increased cholesterol levels.

Those chemicals are used to create water and oil repellent materials, such as those found in firefighting foams, food packaging, and nonstick cookware.

Amy Barrilleaux with Madison Water Utility does admit that they exist at Well 15 but with a caveat.

“The levels at this well, when we’re talking about parts per trillion, are very very low,” Barrilleaux said.

The number is around 40 parts per trillion as of the most recent test in October. The EPA says any level above 70 parts per trillion is unhealthy.

But Barrilleaux says there has been an increase in PFA levels since a recent test showed levels of 5 parts per trillion, which is so small she doesn’t know if it’s an instrument issue or a real concern.

She says much of those chemicals are coming from Truax Airfield, from the firefighting foam that was used there.

While no longer in use, it takes 35 to 50 years for ground water to travel from the airfield to the well.

Even though trace amounts of these PFAS were found at Well 15, the Madison Water Utility says it’s not yet time to sound the alarm, especially because of how common these chemicals are.

“Typically you would shut down a well when there’s an immediate threat, when people are going to be harmed by consuming that water,” Barrilleaux said.

She added that shutting it down would limit the necessary research needed to find out where the real concern might lie.

As of now, no wells are expected to be shut down.

According to the Madison and Dane County Public Health Department, there aren’t any wells in the city that are considered a potential threat.

“I think people may have an expectation of all of their water to be contaminant free, that’s not the case,” Barrilleaux said. “That’s why the EPA has different levels that it establishes for different types of contaminants.”

The Water Utility Board will meet on January 29th at 4:30 p.m. in part to discuss the PFAS issue in the city.

The possibility of closing the well may be brought up then.

Francisco Almenara

Reporter, WKOW

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