Search
policy & Advocacy

Developing Water Quality Standards for PFAS

MEA successfully advocated for statewide water quality standards for PFAS in surface water and municipal drinking water. We continue to advocate for much-need PFAS groundwater standards that will help protect rural Wisconsinites who rely on groundwater from private wells.

ISSUE SUMMARY

New statewide water quality standards for toxic PFAS substances in surface water and municipal drinking water took effect in 2022. State standards give customers of municipal water systems some measure of protection from PFAS pollution, but the standards do not protect rural residents who rely on groundwater from private wells. The lack of enforceable standards for PFAS in groundwater is an urgent public health issue. MEA continues to actively advocate for PFAS groundwater standards in order to minimize PFAS exposure for all Wisconsinites, regardless of the source of their drinking water.

How do water quality standards protect public health?

Even at extremely low levels, exposure to PFAS has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and other serious health problems, such as reproductive and developmental problems, thyroid hormone disruption, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, negative impacts to the immune system and more. Young children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to PFAS exposure. Although manufacturers have agreed to phase out the production of PFOA and PFOS, they persist in groundwater resources throughout the state and continue to pose a public health risk through drinking water. 

How are water quality standards developed?

In Wisconsin, water quality standards are developed through the administrative rulemaking process. In July 2022, MEA petitioned the DNR to move forward with the process of creating water quality standards for PFAS in groundwater. We filed the petition on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and S.O.H2O, a grassroots group dedicated to securing safe drinking water for Peshtigo and Marinette residents. In December 2022, a new scope statement was approved, and the DNR had began to move forward.

What are the challenges?

By late 2023, the rulemaking process had stalled out due to a provision in a controversial Walker-era law known as the REINS Act. The REINS Act interferes with agency rulemaking by requiring that separate legislation be enacted for any proposed rule that is expected to exceed $10 million in compliance costs over any two-year period—even if the estimated benefits far exceed the costs. The law prohibits DNR from resuming work on PFAS groundwater standards without explicit legislative approval. In early 2024, Governor Tony Evers repeatedly called on the legislature to remove this procedural roadblock so that Wisconsin can move forward with setting health-based water quality standards for PFAS in groundwater. To date, the legislature’s Republican majority has refused to do so.

Learn more about our PFAS work here.