public trust podcast

Episode 2: Fighting Fires

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In this episode, we return to French Island to learn more about how local drinking water became contaminated with PFAS. For decades, firefighting foams made from PFAS were used at the airport for routine training and to deal with emergency situations like plane crashes. Over time, PFAS chemicals seeped into the soil and contaminated the groundwater.

We visit Mike and Penny Jorgenson, who, like other French Island residents, rely on regular shipments of drinking water from Culligan. Mike was a firefighter for 34 and used to train with PFAS-containing firefighting foam at the local airport.

“We would use the foam to train and practice and learn how to put out fires… We were under the premise the whole time that it was harmless, that we could wade through it and walk through it, and it would not hurt us.”

For French Island residents like Mike and Penny, this is a deeply personal issue, but it’s not just personal solutions they’re after. They are engaging directly with government officials to advocate for a statewide groundwater quality standard for PFAS.

Lee Donahue tells us how she recently traveled to Madison to testify before the state legislature about how PFAS contamination and the lack of a groundwater standard have impacted French Island, a community that is entirely dependent on private groundwater wells.

“For Campbell residents, Peshtigo residents, and so many others who live on private wells, this is a hardship and it’s a health crisis. And I cringe to count all of my friends who have fought or succumbed to cancer and many other untreatable health conditions.” 

We also talk to environmental scientist Rashmi Joglekar who explains that while PFAS contamination might seem like an insurmountable problem, there is a precedent for regulating other persistent chemicals.