Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of human-made chemicals that are fire resistant, and repel oil, stains, grease, and water. They do not change or break down easily. As a result, they are very widespread in the environment and can be found in air, water, and soil. Experts are concerned about the potential effects of high amounts of PFAS on human health.

PFOA and PFOS were two of the most widely used PFAS chemicals. In recent years, PFOA were replaced with GenX chemicals, and PFOS were replaced with PFBS. These newer chemicals can also impact health.

pfas cycle
Credit: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

PFAS Contamination is Affecting our Lakes, Streams, and Water Supply

The main ways you can be exposed to PFAS in lakes and streams are:

  • eating fish caught from contaminated waters
  • having contact with foam from contaminated waters

Drinking water supplies are also being impacted by PFAS. Any reduction of PFAS levels in the water you drink can help lower your risk of negative health effects. Learn more about how you can reduce your PFAS consumption on our PFAS Health Effects webpage.


Known Sources of PFAS Contamination in Dane County

Truax Field Air National Guard Base and Regional Airport

These sites are contaminated due to the use of firefighting foams. PFAS from the foam gets into lakes and streams through storm water run-off and groundwater flow. Learn more from Wisconsin National Guard and Dane County Regional Airport. More information can be found on WI DNR’s Remediation and Redevelopment Database.

Starkweather Creek

Starkweather Creek was contaminated when PFAS moved from sites near the airport into the Creek. The City of Madison, Dane County Regional Airport, and the Wisconsin National Guard are all responsible for the contamination. Get more information about how it is being cleaned up on WI DNR’s Remediation and Redevelopment Database .

Other Dane County Waters

PFAS has been found in:

  • Wingra Creek
  • Lake Monona
  • Lake Waubesa
  • Upper and Lower Mud Lake
  • Lake Kegonsa
  • The Yahara River downstream to the Rock River

Fish in Dane County Waters 

The Department of Natural Resources tested fish from the Yahara River chain of lakes in 2020. Test results shows PFAS levels that are above the recommended health standards. In 2022, tests of fish from Black Earth Creek showed elevated levels of PFAS. Follow the guide for eating fish for Dane County to reduce PFAS exposure.

Other Sources

Because so many products have PFAS, contamination can come from many other sources, such as landfills and certain businesses.


Drinking Water Standards

National

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) applies to public drinking water supplies across the United States. It regulates more than 90 drinking water contaminants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to set enforceable Maximum Contaminant Levels for specific chemicals. Right now, there are no set contaminant levels for PFAS chemicals and water utilities and companies that produce bottled water are not required to test for PFAS.

The EPA updated their drinking water health advisories for PFAS in June 2022, setting them much lower than the previous advisory. It is important to note that health advisory levels are not the same as a drinking water standard (the enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level). The health advisory is a precursor to creating a standing Maximum Contaminant Level. Learn more about how health advisories are set.

Substance EPA Health Advisory
PFOA 0.004 ppt (interim)
PFOS 0.02 ppt (interim)
GenX (HFPO-DA) 10 ppt (final)
PFBS 2,000 ppt (final)

These are lifetime advisories to protect all people from negative health effects from exposure throughout their life to PFAS in drinking water.

Wisconsin

More than two-thirds of people in Wisconsin use groundwater for drinking water through private wells and public water systems. Wisconsin protects the groundwater by enforcing federal and state safe drinking water act standards. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is creating a groundwater standard for Wisconsin . You can check the progress of creating the standard on the DNR webpage .

In 2019, a groundwater enforcement standard of 20 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS combined was recommended. The recommendation came from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). The 2022 EPA health advisories are lower than these recommended groundwater standards. While DHS health advisories remain unchanged at this time, these new federal advisories may lead to the reconsideration of the current Wisconsin health advisory values.

Staying Up to Date on Wisconsin Developments

The Wisconsin DNR created the Wisconsin PFAS Action Council (WisPAC) in partnership with other state agencies. WisPac will work to create a statewide PFAS action plan. All WisPAC meetings are open to the public.

The PFAS Technical Advisory Group is a working group formed in 2019 to discuss issues related to PFAS in Wisconsin. The group is staffed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and does not have an appointed membership; any interested party may attend and meetings are open to the public.

Dane County

Public water systems are not required to test for PFAS and many in Dane County do not. Madison Water Utility monitors drinking water in all municipal wells for potential PFAS contamination. Contact your municipality if you would like to know about PFAS testing in your community.


Actions Being Taken in Dane County

Alerts about PFAS contamination in Starkweather Creek, Lake Monona, and fish from these waters

Along with Air National Guard and Dane County Regional Airport, we posted PFAS warning signs and advice for eating fish around Lake MononaAdvisory SignFish Advisory Sign and along Starkweather Creek. We will be working with communities along the Yahara chain of lakes and river to post signs to help protect public health. 

Along with Air National Guard and Dane County Regional Airport, we sent letters about PFAS contamination to people living near Starkweather Creek.

Meetings were held with people who eat fish from local waters. City, County, and State agencies gave them information about PFAS in fish tissue and guidance on eating fish safely.

Drinking Water

Madison Water Utility is monitoring drinking water supplies in all municipal wells for PFAS contamination. More information on municipal well testing and results is available through the Madison Water Utility.

Public water systems are not required to test for PFAS and many in Dane County do not. Contact your municipality if you would like to know about PFAS testing in your community.

Sewage and Wastewater

Wastewater treatment plants are not a source of PFAS, but many industries that have used PFAS may be releasing these compounds into sanitary sewers. Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District is learning how PFAS move through the wastewater system. Learn more on their PFAS webpage.

Wisconsin Air National Guard 115th Fighter Wing Remediation

The National Guard has stopped using PFAS firefighting foam during training. Learn how they are safely handling contaminated soil and groundwater, and starting the clean up process on their website.

Dane County Regional Airport

Learn how they are working to prevent contaminated water from entering Starkweather Creek and sampling water in the creek on their website.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

They are helping with clean up around the airport, sampling water and fish in Starkweather Creek and Madison area lakes, providing advice about eating fish, and creating PFAS drinking and surface water standards. Learn more on their website.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS)

They have provided health guidance for PFAS levels in groundwater and drinking water. Learn more on their website.