In late 2013, Tyco detected PFAS chemicals at the center of its 380-acre property in Marinette – the Fire Technology Center (FTC). Tyco personnel studied the issue and discussed it with outside consultants. Based on the topography, the nature of the compounds and other factors, they believed the issue was confined to our property. They also believed they did not have regulatory reporting obligations based on those tests.
In 2016, further testing revealed the presence of PFAS near the property boundary, and we notified the WDNR of these results and the testing from 2013. In 2017, in conjunction with the WDNR and local officials, we conducted testing in drinking water wells in Town of Peshtigo and found that some wells contained PFAS, some at levels higher than the recommended drinking water standard that was in place at that time of 70 parts per trillion (ppt).
As soon as we became aware that PFAS from historic operations at the FTC migrated into private drinking water wells in Peshtigo, we took responsibility, provided bottled water and point-of-entry systems (POETS) in the Potable Well Sampling Area (PWSA), and moved rapidly to address this issue and identify long-term solutions.
IMMEDIATE ACTIONS TAKEN
Our priority was to ensure the community’s water is safe and that residents are protected from PFAS contamination. To do so, we immediately offered bottled water and point-of-entry treatment systems (POETS) to all households in the Town of Peshtigo potentially impacted by PFAS from historic FTC operation (known as the Potable Well Sampling Area or PWSA).
We also took immediate steps to stop PFAS from traveling from the FTC, including:
- Stopped outdoor testing of firefighting foam (AFFF) in 2017
- Ceased untreated industrial wastewater discharges to the City of Marinette’s treatment plant in 2019
- Supported the City of Marinette in managing its biosolids by providing $4.3 million to pay for advanced equipment and licensed disposal of biosolids instead of land spreading that ended in 2018.
- Installed interim filtration systems at Ditches A and B in 2019 to reduce PFAS in surface water.
Longer-term actions included:
- Constructed and operating a $25 million Groundwater Extraction & Treatment System (GETS) that intercepts and treats groundwater that contains the vast majority of PFAS from the FTC before it enters Ditch B.
- Constructed and operating an on-site wastewater treatment system in the $11 million Advanced Research & Testing Facility. Treated water is discharged into relined wastewater lines leading from our properties to the Marinette wastewater treatment plant.
GETS IS WORKING
Tyco designed and built a $25 million Groundwater Extraction & Treatment System (GETS) that began operating 24 hours per day in January 2023. GETS is designed to treat the groundwater that contains the vast majority of the PFAS in the area before it upwells into a local creek (Ditch B). (How GETS works)
Tyco is working with the WDNR under an approved monitoring plan to track GETS progress, while also continuing testing and reporting in accordance with our WPDES discharge permit. The system has successfully treated all water to date and an operational dashboard on GETS performance is posted on the website monthly. Based on recent Ditch B monitoring reports, the GETS has also significantly reduced the amount of PFAS in Ditch B surface water. And the system is reducing PFAS-mass flux throughout the groundwater plume.
DEEP WELLS ARE SAFE LONG-TERM DRINKING WATER SOLUTION
Based on options identified by independent engineering reports, Tyco contacted Town of Peshtigo residents receiving bottled water or using an in-home treatment system (POET) to identify their preferred option for a long-term drinking water solution. The majority preferred deep private wells, so Tyco sent deep well agreements to all the property owners in the PWSA. Over half have sent back signed agreements. Installation of deep wells began in December 2022 and continues.
Test results of treated water from the new deep wells were non-detect for PFAS. Tyco also installed treatment systems (water softener plus reverse osmosis system) that successfully treat naturally occurring elements (including radium) to meet applicable standards. Results from the installations already completed by Tyco demonstrate the deep well water is safe to drink. By the end of 2023, Tyco hopes to have at least 50 deep wells installed. Tyco will continue to install additional wells as requested by property owners in the PWSA. See Deep Well Fact Sheet for more details.
EXPANDED AREA NOT IMPACTED BY PFAS FROM FTC
Tyco has submitted exhaustive evidence demonstrating that the PFAS found in the DNR’s Expanded Area (ESIA) did not come from our historic operations at the Fire Technology Center (FTC). The additional extensive data collected in 2022 further delineated the plume and clearly shows there is no connection between the plume and scattered spots of low-level PFAS found in the ESIA. Tyco analyzed multiple lines of evidence, including:
- Groundwater flow
- Surface water flow
- Potential aerial pathways
- Isoconcentration contours
- Forensics “fingerprinting” report conducted by an independent consultant and submitted as part of the Site Investigation Status Report in April 2023.
For example, groundwater elevation data from the expanded network of monitoring wells confirm that the FTC is downgradient from the potable wells DNR sampled in the west and southwest portions of the ESIA. Since these areas are hydraulically uphill of the FTC, we know that the FTC is not the source because groundwater does not flow uphill.
In the Expanded Area south and east of the plume, additional sample results from monitoring wells, piezometers and soil borings confirm the previously mapped southern plume limit is within the current PWSA boundary.
Additionally, the fingerprints of PFAS that DNR found in the ESIA are very different from the fingerprints of PFAS in the plume from Tyco’s FTC – they have different chemical signatures, which means they are from different sources. Likewise, PFAS detections in the ESIA are not contiguous to our plume. That is, there are patches of PFAS in the expanded area – like would be found across the country given that PFAS is in countless products; there is no evidence of a PFAS plume in the ESIA.
TYCO IS NOT THE ONLY SOURCE OF PFAS IN THE AREA
DNR itself has stated there are many other sources of PFAS and has identified several other PFAS sites near Green Bay and/or the Fox River which discharges into Green Bay. The Marinette and Peshtigo communities contain numerous industrial facilities that are likely contributing PFAS to the environment including paper manufacturers, metal fabricators, landfills, and septic systems.
Tyco has taken responsibility for and is cleaning up PFAS that came from historic operations at the FTC. The data we have shared with the WDNR, the WDNR’s own statements, and other existing documents, however, indicate that there are other sources of PFAS contamination in the community that are unrelated to Tyco. Tyco has no authority to investigate these other sources or take enforcement action against them. WDNR does have that authority but has not been acting to stop known sources with the result that PFAS continues to discharge into the environment.
In addition to many industrial sources of PFAS, due to the widespread usage of PFAS across thousands of household products and materials since the 1940s, including toilet paper, PFAS have been detected in household septic effluent at environmentally relevant concentrations (Thompson et al., 2023). Septic effluent has been identified as a potentially significant source of PFAS to groundwater and nearby drinking water wells (Schaider et al., 2014 and 2016; Subedi et al., 2015; Gao et al., 2019).
TYCO ACTIONS RELATED TO BIOSOLIDS IN REGION’S FIELDS
Even though there are multiple potential sources of biosolids in the fields northwest of Marinette, Tyco has taken affirmative action with respect to biosolids by providing bottled water on request to homeowners in the WDNR-designated “biosolids area.” Tyco funded a dryer that has allowed the Marinette POTW to send its biosolids to a licensed landfill since 2018, therefore, the City of Marinette has not land spread any biosolids for the last 5 years. Tyco also stopped all industrial wastewater discharges from the FTC to the City of Marinette wastewater treatment plant in 2019. Tyco then invested millions in building an on-site, state-of-the-art water treatment system at the FTC that treats all industrial water before it is discharged to the City of Marinette, under a permit. Tyco has acted to make sure the environment is protected while no one else has, including the DNR.
WDNR’s actions with respect to biosolids have been concerning. The WDNR has allowed and continues to allow millions of gallons of biosolids to be land applied in the biosolids area without testing for PFAS or setting a limit for how much PFAS can be in biosolids that are spread on fields. In crop year 2022 alone, WDNR permitted 2 million gallons of biosolids to be spread in Marinette County – 87% from industrial sources (31% from paper manufacturing) and 13% from municipal sources. This undermines the scientific basis of the research the DNR wanted Tyco to conduct since it is impossible to isolate impacts of the historic land-spreading activities by the City of Marinette. Therefore, Tyco paused our investigation of the potential impact of Marinette Wastewater Utility biosolids in the WDNR-designated “biosolids area.”
Although Tyco has paused the investigation of specific fields, and the DNR has not acted to stop the multiple sources of biosolids in the area, Tyco remains focused on clean drinking water and continues to provide bottled water to the more than 100 homes in this area that requested it.
LEGAL SETTLEMENT WITH PESHTIGO RESIDENTS
Tyco settled a class-action lawsuit with Peshtigo residents. Tyco issued a $15 million payment on October 22, 2021, to a court-approved administrator for the class-action lawsuit settlement agreement reached between Tyco and individuals who live(d) in the Town of Peshtigo, whose property may have been affected by the presence of PFAS from Tyco’s Fire Technology Center (FTC) or who may have drunk water that contained PFAS. The court-approved administrator is making all decisions about disbursing the funds according to certain criteria. Tyco had no role in determining the amount any individual will receive.
The settlement agreement was announced in January 2021 in response to a class-action lawsuit filed in 2018 against Tyco. Although the settlement agreement is not an admission of wrongdoing, we believe settling this case is the right thing to do to address the disruption this issue has caused our neighbors.
Further information and contact information for questions about the settlement is available at www.firefightingfoamsettlement.com.
FOAM IN AREA DITCHES
The foam in area ditches is not firefighting foam. We may have contributed some of the PFAS that accumulates in the foam but “Foam is a common occurrence on Wisconsin waterways and can often be observed floating on the surfaces of lakes and rivers,” per WDNR’s website.
At DNR’s request, in April 2020, we began to monitor, collect, and remove foam in Ditches B and C, and eventually expanded to include Ditches A, D & E. We collect foam using booms starting in the spring and ending in late November when the ditches start to freeze. The foam is stored, tested, and sent off-site to a licensed facility for disposal.
Each year, Tyco reports the PFAS levels in foam collected from area ditches, primarily Ditch B. While the foam is not AFFF, some of the PFAS in the foam may be attributable to Tyco’s historic operations at the FTC and the remainder is due to PFAS that is ubiquitous in the environment. Tyco has been monitoring the surface water in area ditches since 2018 as part of the site investigation process. In instances where PFAS are present in the water, the naturally occurring foam has been found to accumulate PFAS at higher concentrations than is present in the water. Therefore, collecting and disposing of the foam also helps reduce the PFAS in the ditch.
The $25 million Groundwater Extraction and Treatment System (GETS) built by Tyco is reducing surface water concentrations of PFAS in Ditch B, and foam that is collected will continue to be monitored over time.