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Health officials advise limited consumption of Lake Monona fish due to PFAS contamination

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MADISON (WKOW) -- After confirming extremely elevated levels of PFAS in a Madison creek, Wisconsin DNR officials now say they've found elevated levels in the fish, as well.

As a result, state health officials now recommend that people limit consumption of fish from Lake Monona and Starkweather Creek.

PFAS are human-made chemicals used in products like fast food wrappers and stain-resistant sprays. Consuming them can result in health issues, including increased cholesterol levels, weakening of the immune system and increased risk of cancer, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

"Those levels (in the fish) were elevated to such an extent that we felt that the existing fish consumption advisory... wasn't fully protected enough," said Darsi Foss, administrator with the WI DNR Division of Environmental Management.

She says, as far as they can tell, the fish aren't being harmed -- but eating the fish often could harm people, which is why they're advising cutting back on fish from both Starkweather Creek and Lake Monona.

The WI DNR and Department of Health Services released guidelines Wednesday for how often it is safe to eat certain types of fish caught from the two waterways:

The agencies say following these recommendations will protect people from excess exposure to the chemicals and to other contaminants found in fish, such as mercury and PCBs. The advisories may change with more data.

"Long-term kind of exposures are what we're concerned about," Foss said. "Not like if you just eat one fillet."

Previously, the DNR had urged caution fishing on or near the mouth of Starkweather Creek, but because fish can swim anywhere, that means any fish in Lake Monona could be contaminated with PFAS.

"There's a reason why these are called 'forever chemicals,'" Foss said. "They do stay in our body and fish and other wildlife's systems for a long time."

She says PFAS can stay in humans for 8-15 years, and they're not sure how long it can stay in the fish.

"The tougher question is, how long will it take to get out of the water the fish are swimming in?" she said. "Until we clean up the water, we really can't clean up the fish."

For more information about the health effects of PFAS, visit the Public Health of Madison & Dane County Website.

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway says health officials will be putting up new signs along Starkweather Creek and sending a mailing to homes.

She said, in a statement,

“The City is taking immediate steps to inform the public about the new, more restrictive fish advisories. The City will continue to follow the best available science to protect the public’s health. I urge people to take this advisory seriously and recognize that small fish are of concern as well.”

DNR officials say some of the PFAS contamination has come from Truax Field and the Dane County Regional Airport, which have firefighting foam that contains the chemicals.

Airport officials say they're working with the DNR to address the contamination and plan to host public information meetings in the near future.

Andrew Merica

Reporter/Producer, 27 News

Ester Wells

WKOW News

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