Troubled taps: PFAs foam alternative may not be available to La Crosse Regional Airport until 2023

PFAs, dangerous man-made chemicals sprayed at the La Crosse Regional Airport for decades, have contaminated more than 500 private wells in the Town of Campbell

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – More than 1,000 Town of Campbell families are drinking bottled water because their wells may be contaminated.

In March, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued an interim area-wide drinking water advisory for the town after hundreds of wells tested positive for PFAS.

PFAS are dangerous man-made chemicals linked to diseases, like cancer.

The city of La Crosse has taken responsibility for some of the contamination.

PFAS were used to produce the firefighting foam sprayed at the La Crosse Regional Airport for decades.

City leaders have asked the Federal Aviation Administration to stop using PFAS-produced foam at the airport. The FAA has yet to grant their request.

Congress directed the FAA to switch to PFAS-free firefighting foam by Oct. 4 of this year.

The deadline has passed, and the FAA administrator says he’s optimistic airports can use PFAS-free foams by January of 2023.

But Town of Campbell officials are not happy about waiting for more than a year.

“I’m shocked,” Campbell board supervisor Lee Donahue said. “I’m disappointed. I’m angry.”

Hundreds of private wells in the Town of Campbell have tested positive for dangerous chemicals known as PFAS.

And it appears residents will to have keep waiting before they can drink safe well water again.

“They are suffering from an issue that was caused through no fault of their own,” Donahue said.

For decades, firefighting foam containing PFAS were sprayed at the La Crosse Regional Airport.

PFAS spread throughout the groundwater, and into the drinking water wells of nearby homes.

DNR tested for and found more than 500 contaminated wells.

“PFAS doesn’t go away,” Donahue said. “It’s called a “forever chemical.”‘

The FAA is asking airports to minimize the use of firefighting foam with PFAS until it can find an alternative.

“Really, the only occasion where PFAS foam would need to be used is for an actual fuel fire,” FAA administrator Steve Dickson said at a U.S. Senate Committee hearing Wednesday.

The FAA has conducted more than 400 tests with many PFAS-free foams but hasn’t found a safe replacement, Dickson said.

“We were interrupted somewhat by COVID, because of an inability to get on site for some period of time,” Dickson said.

Town of Campbell supervisor Lee Donahue says COVID should not be an excuse.

Other international airports have successfully used PFAS-free foam for years.

“There is no excuse,” Donahue said. “We are wasting time. We are wasting money to independently certify something that’s already been scientifically proven.”

PFAS still are spreading through the groundwater.

And while there’s no stopping the flow now, Donahue says we can prevent more contamination by replacing PFAS foams with a safer alternative.

“It’s very simple. Turn off the flow,” Donahue said.

News 8 Now has reported that the La Crosse Regional Airport is no longer using PFAS foams for training.

Donahue said the town is working with the U.S. Geological Survey, and it is testing other locations throughout French Island for PFAS and other contaminants.

The town should have some of the results in the next few months, she said.

Recent News Headlines from News 8 Now 

Man arrested in La Crosse incident accused of threatening former employer

Winona Education Association names La Crosse Logan High grad Teacher of the Year

Ammo supply can’t meet demand as gun-deer season approaches 

Volunteers help Rotary Lights avoid setback after heavy vandalism