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Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District Takes Lead in PFAS Public Guidance
Across the nation, communities and public entities are struggling to address PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in the environment, and the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District is no exception. In the greater Madison, Wisconsin area, residents are particularly concerned about PFAS contamination.
The City of Madison, the largest community served by the District, has known sources of PFAS contamination due to the former use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams at the airport and Air National Guard field, and the State of Wisconsin is pursuing PFAS regulations. The District took an early leadership position on PFAS in 2019 and committed to sampling and analyzing its wastewater cycle and to public transparency of the information it collected. At the time, however, there was little information available from state regulatory agencies to explain and quantify the complex nature of PFAS to guide these efforts. In addition, while the science of PFAS in drinking water and surface water was relatively advanced, that was not the case for PFAS in the wastewater or biosolids that the District produces. This left the District in a defensive position, lacking an authoritative voice on the issue and resources for public education, as it pushed forward with its plan.
To address the information gap that existed on PFAS, the District created its own website, www.madsewerpfasinitiative.org, to provide information on PFAS, with a specific focus on the District's leading work and contextualizing communications about the District and the wastewater cycle in relation to PFAS. This context is critical as it sets the scene for better understanding and puts meaning to the message. The site includes deep-dive explanations of the District's work; full versions of its reports; and relevant press releases and blog posts. In September 2021, new content was added to provide the results of the District's initial PFAS sampling in easy-to-understand language and accessible information tables to provide full public transparency of the results.
The website also provides practical tips for consumers and businesses for reducing their use of PFAS. And it underscores that wastewater utilities are receivers of PFAS, and treatment technologies are costly, so the preferred, cost-effective course of action in reducing PFAS is pollution prevention and source reduction. The resources provided on the website reiterate the message that everyone has a role to play in minimizing PFAS in the environment, homes and businesses. Response to the website has been favorable, and the District will continue to utilize it to provide education and information as its PFAS work continues.
NACWA awarded the City of Madison a 2022 National Environmental Achievement Award in the Public Information & Education: E-Media category for its effective and informative website. Congratulations to everyone involved!