Wisconsin’s Drinking Water Is Full of Cancer-Causing Chemicals: Is Yours Contaminated?

(Photo via iStock).

By Fiona Hatch

August 30, 2023

Gov. Tony Evers first made PFAS a priority in 2019, which he called “The Year of Clean Drinking Water.” Since then, Wisconsin has made major strides in eliminating the cancer-causing chemicals from its drinking water. 

What are PFAS? 

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, aka PFAS, are man-made chemicals that have been used in commercial, consumer, and industrial products since the 1950s. They’re found in everything from cookware and food packaging to shampoo, nail polish, and makeup. 

Nicknamed “forever chemicals”, PFAS break down as slowly as they’re name suggests–meaning once you’ve ingested them (by accident, of course), they’re extremely hard to get rid of. 

“PFAS remain unchanged in the body for long periods of time,” experts warn. “It takes nearly four years for the level in your body to go down by half.”

PFAS have been found in fish, soil, air, and food–but in Wisconsin, the main concern is our drinking water.  

How can PFAS affect you?

The long-term health concerns are still TBD, but these are some of the researched health effects:

  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Lower birth weight (if ingested while pregnant)
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure or preeclampsia (if pregnant)
  • Increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer
  • Decreased vaccine response in children

MORE: Health Effects of PFAS May Be Widely Underestimated

How do I know if there are PFAS in my water?

At least 45% of Americans have contaminated drinking water, according to the latest widespread study. If you’re (rightfully) concerned, the FDA recommends contacting your local water utility or health department to find out if your water source is contaminated.The Wisconsin DNR also has an interactive PFAS data viewer. Click here to search for your local waterways.

What’s being done to eliminate PFAS?

In 2019, Evers created the Wisconsin PFAS Action Council (WisPAC) to coordinate the state’s response to PFAS contamination, and in 2022, WisPAC released its first progress report. These are some of the state’s biggest accomplishments so far:

  • Took legal action against 18 major chemical companies responsible for Wisconsin’s PFAS contamination.
  • Tightened up standards regulating the amount of PFAS legally allowed in surface and drinking water, which went into effect August 1, 2022.
  • Signed off on a new round of funding for PFAS cleanup in the state’s 2023-2025 biennial budget.

“I was proud to sign a budget that included the first real and substantive Republican effort to address PFAS after years of inaction with a $125 million investment to address and prevent PFAScontamination statewide,” said Evers in a press release

Here’s how that money will be spent:

The Biden Administration has also prioritized PFAS cleanup. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law made $9 billion available over five years to address PFAS contamination across the US–including Wisconsin. 

“At the end of the day, we have to make sure that every Wisconsinite has access to clean, safe water—no matter whether it’s for drinking in our homes and schools, for our crops or livestock, or our natural waters for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.,” said Evers. 

DEEP DIVE: These Companies Knew the Dangers of PFAS–And Hid Them For Decades

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