Updates From DHS Clarify Hazard Index Reporting

On June 7, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) provided the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with an updated letter on the utilization of the hazard index (HI) approach to assess the cumulative risk of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).

This updated letter clarifies recommendations provided to the DNR in November 2020, making clear that the hazard index should be reported to one decimal place (examples are provided in the memo). No other changes to the DHS recommended approach were made.

As a reminder, DNR and DHS are now using this approach to evaluate when the state or responsible party should provide temporary emergency water. DHS recommends utilizing bottled water or another safe alternative drinking water supply if the hazard index is equal to or greater than one.

The DNR publication Guidance on Temporary Water for Private Well Users Affected by PFAS – NR 738 (RR-131) has been updated to reflect that the hazard index should be reported to one decimal place. More information on the hazard index and availability of temporary emergency water is available on the DNR’s PFAS webpage. Please note that the hazard index tool is not intended to be used to develop cleanup standards under ch. NR 722.

PFAS are a group of human-made chemicals used for decades in numerous products, including non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and certain types of firefighting foam. These legacy contaminants have made their way into the environment in a variety of ways, including spills of PFAS-containing materials, discharges of PFAS-containing wastewater to treatment plants, and use of certain types of firefighting foams.

PFAS do not break down easily in the environment and have been discovered at concentrations of concern in groundwater, surface water and drinking water. These chemicals are known to bioaccumulate in the tissues of fish and wildlife and are also known to accumulate in the human body, posing several risks to human health.

Addressing PFAS contamination in the environment is part of Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide initiative to ensure Wisconsinites have access to clean, safe, drinking water. In 2019, the governor signed Executive Order #40 to address the issue of PFAS across the state.

Additionally, the governor’s 2021-23 biennial budget proposes significant resources for the monitoring and testing of PFAS including over $20 million over the next two years for assistance and resources to local communities that are impacted by PFAS contamination, aiding local fire departments in disposing of PFAS foam, and adding additional DNR staff to implement the Wisconsin PFAS Action Council’s action plan.

Additional information on PFAS is available on the Wisconsin DHS website and the Wisconsin DNR website.

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