MADISON (WKOW) — An estimated 19 million people in 43 states are drinking water contaminated with chemicals known as PFAs, according to a report from the nonprofit, Environmental Working Group.
PFAs are man-made chemicals found in things like firefighting foam and certain non-stick products. In high levels, they’ve been linked to cancer and other health risks but they’re also known to build up both in the environment and in the human body.
Justin Masuga of Madison said the chemical came to his attention after it was found in Well 15, one of the wells that provides water for his home. When he learned of the health risks associated with the chemicals, he switched to drinking and cooking exclusively with bottled water.
“If I’m drinking it for like a day, I wouldn’t care,” Masuga said. “If I’m drinking it over the next 30 years of living here at this house or wherever then that’s probably going to affect me.”
He was one of the neighborhood leaders behind the push to shut down Well 15 and the city complied until the state publishes new safety standards related to PFAs.
Until then, Amy Barrilleaux with Madison Water Utility said the city is making sure other wells are clear. They’ve been testing them in batches and Thursday, they reported four more wells have trace amounts of PFAs, bringing the total number to 10 out of 19 Madison wells.
“What we found is disappointing,” Barrilleaux said.
Though there is a silver lining. All of the PFAs levels found in those nine other Madison wells are significantly lower than Well 15. The city found about 12 parts per trillion in Well 15, none of the other wells had even half that amount.
“It’s nothing that we want our customers to feel fearful about or panicked about,” Barrilleaux said.
She said at these levels, the EPA doesn’t consider it a public health risk but Madison Water Utility wanted to make the information available so consumers can make their own decisions. Barrilleaux added that she doesn’t believe Madison’s results are unique.
“In Madison we’re finding it because we’re looking very hard for it. Not every community is looking this hard that doesn’t mean it’s not there,” she said.
Barrilleaux said the next step for the city is learning those safe standards and studying ways to filter PFAs out of drinking water.
In the meantime, Masuga, he said he’ll continue to stay away from the tap.
“Until something actually gets done, we’ll be using bottled water,” he said.
The city believes Well 15 got its contamination due to its proximity to Truax Field and any firefighting foam that may have been used there.
The city still has four more wells to test. Barrilleaux said those tests are scheduled later this summer after the wells reopen.