City discusses PFAS contamination and the response timeline
By Lori Adler, reporter
The Rhinelander Common Council conducted their regular meeting Monday. Among many items of business was a presentation by Daniel Guild, city administrator, regarding the PFAS contamination discovered this summer in one of the city wells. In addition, Guild addressed the timeline of events as questions regarding the timing of the notification to residents have recently surfaced.
First Guild explained that the city has a history of PFAS testing, noting that the city tested for a type of PFAS in 2013 as part of the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule. At that time, cities with populations under 10,000 were chosen randomly and asked to volunteer to test. Rhinelander was selected and therefore voluntarily participated in the testing. In 2015, the Department Military Affairs inquired about water quality at the Rhinelander National Guard post since PFAS contamination first became a concern for military bases. In addition, there was contact from the DNR in subsequent years with information about PFAS. The city had been aware of these potential issues with PFAS for some time prior to this summer’s contamination discovery.
In the days leading up to June 21, both Mayor Chris Frederickson and Guild received correspondence from former Public Works Director Tim Kingman. The emails stated there might be an issue at Well #7 but did not explain what the issue was and if anything had been done. On June 21, Guild received copies of test results from department staff which was exactly the same day that Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of Health Services issued a press release stating their recommendation of PFAS levels in drinking water no greater than 20 ppt (parts per trillion). The recommendation was new information to the city so it was felt the weekend was needed to do some research before acting. It was decided to take Well #7 out of service on June 24. The city then asked the DNR for guidance regarding the letter to be sent to residents and this, along with discussions with legal council took time. Letters to residents went out on July 19.
It’s important to note, Guild explains, that the recommended level of 20 ppt is the lowest recommendation of any state thus far, and that was why the city felt the need for additional research before responding.
“The State of Wisconsin has a recommendation of a sample result below 20 ppt, so just to help you guys put that into context,” Guild stated, “that’s 20 square inches out of over 250 square miles, that’s 20 seconds in nearly 32,000 years, and that’s one ounce in 7.5 billion gallons of water. So we are talking about the fact that our testing techniques have become very sophisticated and we are able to detect trace amounts and extremely small quantities.”
Guild also pointed out that many organizations within the state have differing recommendations, including many that are advising cities to remain cautious regarding testing and to considering waiting for additional information. The City of Rhinelander, however, has moved forward on continued testing. Sampling on all city wells has been done three times this summer (May 24, June 27 and July 24) and a fourth month of sampling is planned. The testing includes all PFAS chemicals. Guild stated that the last round of sampling of well #7 revealed PFAS levels well below the proposed level for Wisconsin of 20 ppt (though no plans to return the well to service is planned at this time).The differences in test results can come from many things, Guild noted, including sample contamination or spikes in levels due to ground water movement.
One recommendation from Guild, as well as from Mayor Frederickson, was the consideration of hiring a hydrologist who could review the well system and the aquifers as well as investigating groundwater movement to identify any potential future issues. The Council moved to look into the cost and scope of services to potentially hire a hydrologist.
One final note during Guild’s presentation was that all the historical documents, correspondence, research and test results he referred to in his presentation have been uploaded to both the city’s website and it’s Facebook page and is available for download and review by anyone.
“We, as government officials are taking your safety serious, and we are not taking answers lightly, we are digging into them deep and hard to make sure we have the answer that, when we report to you, you feel safe and trust in that,” Mayor Frederickson said.
City Attorney Recruitment
The council moved Monday to provide the city administrator with a budget of $2,000 to increase advertising efforts for the recruitment of a city attorney. While free avenues of advertising, including notification with the League of Wisconsin Municipalities and the local bar association, have been tried, only one application has been received thus far, and that was for prosecutorial services only, no municipal legal services.
Additional City Staff
Some possible additional city staff are being considered. The council is considering the hiring of a human resources administrator who could also help with payroll. In addition, an executive secretary and a public works administrator are also being considered. The council moved to have the city administrator move forward in determining the possible job descriptions and salaries for these potential new positions. The council will then determine if the budget allows for recruitment of the positions at a future meeting.
The next meeting of the Rhinelander Common Council will be Monday, September 9, at 6 p.m. at Rhinelander City Hall.