City water deemed safe; Crescent Springs tested by DNR
City administrator says Rhinelander drinking water is safe
By Lori Adler
The city of Rhinelander recently conducted some sample testing of drinking water, looking for a specific group of contaminants known as PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances). As a result, the city took a precautionary measure and shut down one of the wells that furnishes water to the city. The city’s drinking water, however, is deemed safe.
The testing was done voluntarily as a response to a citizen question. City Administrator Daniel Guild said, “I think people have a right to know what’s going on, so if there’s a good question and we don’t necessarily have an answer for it, we try to be pretty responsive and see what we can do to find the answer.”
Testing of all the city wells was conducted in late May with results coming back in mid-June. Well No. 7, located on the west side of Rhinelander near U.S. Hwy 8, had higher than suggested levels of PFAS and was subsequently taken out of service on June 24. This was done by the city simply as a precautionary measure, but city residents are concerned.
“So the test results came back and we ordered the well to be shut down and then we started working with partners, folks at the DNR and others, to just make sure that we adequately understood the situation, trying to educate ourselves on it to make sure that we had the most current and up-to-date information possible and then we’ve been working on preparing materials to get stuff out to the public,” Guild said. “I think in that between time chitter-chatter gets out, and the chitter-chatter I think then grows and gains a life of its own. So yes, I have been getting quite a few calls from folks who have been hearing some very outlandish things.”
According to Guild, water supplied to each home or business is a mixture of water from all the wells, not just one, so even though one well tested higher for the chemical, the contaminant is diluted with water from other wells, creating very low levels in the city’s drinking water system.
The Oneida County Health Department issued a statement Tuesday regarding well water.
“There is not currently enough information to determine where the contamination comes from or extends to,” county health officer Linda Conlon said. “If people are concerned about their private well, we recommend they find an alternative source of water, such as bottled water or water from a known safe source.”
At this time, the health department is recommending residents NOT use water from the Crescent Spring on River Road until it is deemed safe by the DNR.
There are currently no regulations regarding PFAS levels in the state, though the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is looking to change that.
“The DNR asked the Department of Health to issue a guideline, an advisory, back on June 21. The Department of Health responded and gave a suggestion to the DNR for what the standard should be,” Guild said.
This now needs to go through a regulatory process, which includes public input. This process can take up to 30 months to complete. A few states, including Minnesota, have recently changed regulations regarding PFAS levels. The DNR’s request to the Department of Health is based upon these recent changes of regulations in other states as well as emerging science regarding these chemicals. This week, the DNR is sending letters to 125 municipalities requesting testing of wastewater for PFAS. At this point, the city of Rhinelander has not received any notification by the DNR requesting testing.
Recent research regarding PFAS is what is prompting national attention regarding these substances. Research suggests that PFAS can cause health concerns including increased cholesterol levels, changes in the body’s hormones and immune response, decreased fertility and some cancers. The research is new and limited at this point. PFAS comes from products that have been treated to be heat and oil resistant such as fast food wrappers, non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting and fire-fighting foams. These chemicals do not break down in the environment, but at this time, research shows that only ingesting the chemical can cause health problems. Casual contact, such as touching the products, has not been shown to be a concern.
As for the city of Rhinelander, all that can be done at this point is to continue the monitoring process. As such, well No. 7 is shut down indefinitely.
“There is no fix, but what we are going to do is continue to test because we don’t have a lot of information on where the contaminant came from and when and why it emerged in the groundwater supply at that particular location, so we will keep testing and we’ll keep researching and gathering more information and then we’ll see what comes of that, and as we find stuff out, we’ll let the public know,” Guild said. “We just want to make sure that people are informed.”
The city of Rhinelander has sent a letter to each resident explaining what has been done, along with providing information on these contaminants. For more information, visit https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/contaminants/PFAS.html or call Dr. Sarah Yang at the Wisconsin Department of Health at 608-266-9337. Additional information can also be found at the Wisconsin DHS website https://dhs.wisconsin.gov/chemical/pfas.htm.