Growing number of French Island wells contaminated with PFAS

The City of La Crosse has acknowledged responsibility for the contamination, but Mayor Kabat has not said whether it will pay to provide a permanent source of water to affected homes

TOWN OF CAMPBELL, Wis. (WKBT)- A growing number of home owners near the La Crosse Airport are drinking and cooking with bottled water after learning their wells are contaminated. 

110 private wells in the Town of Campbell have tested positive for a dangerous compound called PFAS. The man-made compound was used to produce the fire-fighting foam sprayed at the airport for decades. It wasn’t until the 90’s that scientists learned exposure to small concentrations of PFAS were linked to infertility, thyroid disease, and cancer. It wasn’t until this fall, The City of La Crosse learned PFAS in the ground at the airport spread. 

During a meeting with local reporters, La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat said the city is taking the contamination “seriously”.  A spokesman for the DNR told News 8 Now, the City has accepted responsibility for the contamination. The City is providing bottled water to 45 homes with PFAS levels above the DNR’s proposed safety standard, but those homes will need a permanent source of clean water. The City is exploring options like installing water filtration systems or piping city water into the affected homes. However; Mayor Kabat can’t say whether the City will cover the cost.  “The short answer today is, I do not know that. That is something the city council will have to work out with the DNR, and what exactly the DNR is going to require.”, explains Kabat. 

Mayor Kabat says the city is exploring a lawsuit against the companies that make the foam. A settlement could take years, and even if it’s successful, Kabat doesn’t know how the money would be spent. “That again would be a common council decision, as far as reimbursing costs or working out some future program to help people with their water supply, I don’t know what that would be right now.”, says Kabat.

Meantime, affected homeowners like Amanda Hartley are frustrated and scared. “We’ve trusted them to be a good neighbor to us and it turns out they haven’t been.” says Hartley. 

 The City’s consultant, John Storlie, don’t know exactly how far the PFAS spread. After the first round, all but one of the 109 wells tested had a detectable level of PFAS. 36 tested above the DNR’s safety standard. As of January 20, the City had tested a total of 125 wells. Storlie say 15 tests are still pending. The results that have come back, have all found detectable levels of PFAS. 9 of them tested above the DNR’s proposed safety standard, bringing the total number to 45.  The City continues to expand its well testing sites, and is moving South of I-90. News 8 Now will share the results when they are available.

The La Crosse Airport isn’t the only airport to use fire-fighting foam produced with PFAS. Storlie says it’s use is required by the FAA. The City of La Crosse stopped using it for training more than a year ago and has taken steps to stop it from getting into the soil, if it must be used during an emergency.

To watch the Mayor’s full presentation click HERE