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La Crosse mayor disregarded PFAS guidance on bottled water

March 19, 2021 GMT

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — The mayor of La Crosse disregarded state guidance and refused to supply bottled water for all French Island residents who have man-made PFAS contaminants in their wells, records show.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday that it obtained emails showing Mayor Tim Kabat refused to supply bottled water for anyone with pollution levels below 20 parts per trillion, despite guidance from the state Department of Natural Resources that more people should get clean water. John Storlie, an environmental consultant the city hired, said in an email to Kabat in November that residents with at least 15 ppt should get water.

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“Let’s stick to the plan that we have presented all along — if a well is 20 or greater then we provide water. If less than 20 we do not,” Kabat responded.

Other emails showed that the city established a $100,000 fund to provide water to homes with high levels of contamination, but that adding homes with lower levels of contamination would have driven up the costs to $200,000 or $250,000.

In an email to a woman concerned about her infant consuming PFAS-contaminated well water, Kabat assured her that the city was basing its approach on science.

Kabat’s executive secretary, Caley Rucker, didn’t immediately respond to messages Friday from The Associated Press seeking comment from the mayor.

PFAS were first detected in French Island wells in 2014. Officials believe the pollution originated from firefighting foam used at the city’s airport, which stands on the north end of the island, and has been spreading into groundwater across the island’s southern half. Tests have revealed at least 40 wells around the airport on French Island are contaminated.

The city earlier this month filed a lawsuit against dozens of chemical manufacturers alleging they’ve known since the 1960s that the foam would pollute the area’s groundwater but continued to manufacture and sell it without warning customers, jeopardizing public health.