La Crosse County Housing Authority calculates costs of PFAS contamination

TOWN OF CAMPBELL, Wis. (WKBT)- A Wisconsin DNR listening session Wednesday indicated that a decision could come toward the end of August on the status of free bottled water to Town of Campbell families whose well water is contaminated with PFAS. 

In March, the DNR issued an interim, area-wide drinking water advisory and has been providing free bottled water to more than 1,100 families, but it has been unclear how long that free water will last. The DNR is studying the issue and plans an update in August, officials said during the listening session

The two wells that provide water to War-Leh Manor are contaminated with high levels of PFAS. The group of man-made compounds were used to manufacturer many products; including the firefighting foam sprayed at the La Crosse Regional Airport. Exposure to high amounts of is linked to infertility, thyroid disease and cancer.

“That same day I went on the DNR website and filled out a form for each one of our eighteen residents signed up to get the free water,” explains Patrick Dienger, executive director of the La Crosse County Housing Authority.

The city of La Crosse has taken responsibility for some of the contamination and is providing water to some families. According to the interim site report it submitted to the DNR, the city claims there is another source of PFAS contamination. The report did not name another source. The DNR is investigating. 

The agency is also providing bottled water to any residence the city is not, including War-Leh Manor. But the DNR has promised to supply that water for only six months.  If its water program ends, the costs could shift to well owners.  “I’ve already done the math for the water. To continue it will cost us about $8,000 a year, ”  Dienger said.

The La Crosse County Housing Authority will pick up the tab at War-Leh Manor. La Crosse County Board Chair Monica Kruse said the county has never promised to be financially responsible for mitigating any of the PFAS contamination in the Town of Campbell, but is exploring contingency plans. “Absolutely, yes, we will help. Especially at places like War-Leh. They are under the auspices of the county. We feel an obligation to make sure they have safe drinking water, ” Kruse says.

More than 500 Town of Campbell wells have tested positive for PFAS. The DNR is reviewing those results with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The two agencies will decide how long to provide water. They could make a decision as soon as this month.

Bottled water is only a temporary solution. The Town of Campbell will need a permanent source of clean drinking water. The town board is weighing its options and possible sources of funding.