THU AM News: Waste management coalition formed to reduce PFAS pollution; Assembly Environment Committee approves bill banning firefighting foams with PFAS

— Waste management groups in the state have formed a new coalition aimed at reducing pollution from PFAS.

PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are found in many commercial products including firefighting foam. They’re also found in lotions and deodorants, waterproof clothing, certain types of carpeting, fast food wrappers and more. 

When these products are thrown away, recycling facilities, landfills and other waste management entities end up with the PFAS-contaminated waste, which can be costly to process. 

Since state officials became aware of the negative impacts of PFAS, the DNR has been working to understand the various sources of the chemicals. Solid waste facilities have been identified as one source of PFAS contamination, according to the coalition. But Meleena Johnson, president of Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin, argues that “solid waste facilities are receivers, not generators of PFAS.”

She says the onus is on consumers to change their consumption habits and pressure companies to stop including the chemicals in products. 

According to Gerry Neuser, chairperson of the Wisconsin Counties Solid Waste Management Association, PFAS compounds are “everywhere and in every house.” He notes children are most often exposed through household dust, while adults are typically exposed through food. 

Along with the Solid Waste Association of North America-Badger Chapter, these organizations are calling for “true source reduction, not just a patchwork of regulatory standards, non-standardized sampling methods and requirements for unproven filtration systems.” 

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— The Assembly Environment Committee has approved by a bipartisan vote a bill that would prohibit the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS or similar substances.

Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, was the sole committee member voting in opposition, saying it was “going in the right direction” but that he wanted more serious legislation regarding PFAS to take priority.

“We need to do something that’s more powerful than a feelgood bill picking at the edges,” Hebl said yesterday. “We can’t let this go another session. Wisconsin used to be a leader in environmental protection. I want us to do better.”

Reps. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, and Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, both said the bill is “a first step” in the Legislature’s plans this session to take up new PFAS regulation.

Shankland specifically said she was voting “yes” on the bill under the assumption that more will be done later. She raised concern the bill doesn’t give the Department of Natural Resources the authority to clean up the release of foams after a spill.

Gov. Tony Evers with Executive Order 40 created the Wisconsin PFAS Action Council to collaborate with state agencies in addressing public health and environmental concerns over the chemicals.

Attorney General Josh Kaul will hold a public input session on PFAS contamination in Marinette County on Dec. 18.

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— The Natural Resources Board has passed several rule packages meant to better assess phosphorus levels in specific state waters.

While the rules are only meant to guide the assessment of contaminant levels in surface water, DNR Water Quality Program Director Adrian Stocks suggested the criteria could in the future be used against farms that exceed their total maximum daily load of pollutants released into waterways.

Board member William Bruins, a dairy farmer and appointee of former Gov. Scott Walker, said he had concerns about how these proposals might negatively affect the state’s ag industry.

“I’m uncomfortable with what little information you’re giving us on what impact there’s going to be moving forward,” Bruins said.

Stocks said any phosphorus regulation suggestions coming out of results from assessments would have to go through board approval again in the future. He said the rules are meant to offer “clarity and consistency” to the process rather than actual regulation.

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— Wisconsin banks serving the agricultural community say client liquidity is one of their top concerns, according to a recent survey conducted by the Wisconsin Bankers Association. 

Other major concerns for these lenders include farm incomes uncertainty surrounding tariffs and trade, survey results show. Lower ranked issues included the cost and availability of farm labor, weather, and interest rate volatility. 

Banks with ag clients are most concerned about dairy farms in particular, while producers of grains, beef cattle, swine, vegetables, fruits and nuts, and poultry were ranked as less concerning. 

Agricultural lending increased this year, the survey shows, and is expected to continue increasing in the coming year. More than half of the survey respondents expect to increase ag loans in 2020, while around a third said current levels will continue “for the near future.” 

Eric Skrum, a spokesman for WBA, said 50 agricultural bankers responded to this year’s survey. He noted that ag banking isn’t offered at every bank “as it is a very specialized field.” WBA sent out the survey to members that have identified themselves as agricultural bankers. 

Around 80 percent of respondents expect ag land prices to stay the same in 2020. But at the same time, over 80 percent of respondents expect dairy building site values to decrease next year. 

See the full survey results: 

— Business leaders in the Madison region are generally optimistic about sales revenues for 2020, according to this year’s First Business Bank Economic Survey. 

Of the more than 120 Madison-area respondents to this year’s survey, 73 percent expect sales revenues to rise next year, while just 7 percent expect sales to fall. 

Looking back on 2019, 15 percent of respondents had a decrease in sales revenue for the year and 58 percent saw an increase in sales. Last time around, 11 percent saw a decrease in sales revenue in 2018 while 75 percent saw a sales increase. 

For surveyed businesses that had a worse overall performance this year, most chalked up the problem to a lack of skilled workers. Other top issues dragging down business performance were higher operating costs and a shortfall in domestic sales. 

Just 1 percent of respondents expect to reduce the number of employees next year, compared to 6 percent in last year’s survey. And 50 percent expect to add more workers, down 8 percentage points from the previous year’s projection. 

Eighty-eight percent of respondents increased wages in 2019, which is 6 percent higher than last year. Only 1 percent decreased wages, falling from 2 percent in 2018. Around 80 percent expect to increase wages in 2020, which is slightly higher than the previous year’s 77 percent. 

See the full survey: 


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<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

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