Anti-CAFO group updates Saratoga residents on progress

SARATOGA — Central Wisconsin residents who organized to fight a proposed large-scale dairy are circulating a petition asking the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to become directly involved in inspecting another dairy operation. Friends of Wood County and Its Neighbors, a group formed in opposition to the proposed Golden Sands Family Farms dairy in Saratoga, presented information to the DNR about high nitrate levels in private wells near the Central Sands Dairy in the Juneau County town of Armenia, said Nancy Koch, Friends of Wood County founder. The Wysocki Family of Cos., which is proposing building the large-scale dairy in Saratoga, is part owner of the Armenia dairy.

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Owners of proposed Saratoga dairy file environmental impact report

SARATOGA — The owners of a proposed large-scale dairy announced Friday they’ve filed a required environmental impact report with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.The Wysocki Family of Companies also has created an online tool to provide the public with information about the proposed Golden Sands Family Farm, said Jim Wysocki, chief financial officer for the Wysocki Family of Cos. Read more

Water contamination problems for Kewaunee County town

TOWN OF LINCOLN – People in one Kewaunee County community say ongoing well contamination problems have gotten worse. As the weather warms up, residents in the town of Lincoln are reporting more issues with polluted water.

The thin soil and fractured bedrock make the area more susceptible to runoff problems.

“Nice water sure. Looks nice, but looks can be deceiving,” said resident Mick Sagrillo.

Sagrillo, who’s lived in Lincoln for 30 plus years, says tests show what you can’t see.

“Nitrates and bacteria,” Sagrillo said.

He’s been forced to buy bottled water for more than a decade because of a contaminated well.

See/View Fox News 11 story

Group asks DNR to halt overhead manure application to fields

By Chuck Quirmbach | Wisconsin Public Radio Citizen groups are asking state health officials to block a plan to spray manure onto fields using overhead irrigators.

The use of rolling irrigation machines that usually spray water for spreading liquid manure on farm fields first triggered controversy about a year ago. The aerial spraying of manure continues on a few Wisconsin farms, but citizen groups want to stop a large farm near Algoma from using its new aerial spraying permit for a DNR-backed research effort.

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Letter: Spray manure irrigation is unhealthy

Letter Appeared in the Green Bay Press Gazette When talking about disposal of untreated lagoon wastes, people are under the belief that these wastes are simply manure, feces and urine from cattle. That is completely inaccurate. Industrial wastes are taken by landowners and farms, which oftentimes can be delivered in voluminous amounts by the ton.

These landowners and operators receive a “tipping fee” for these wastes. Many of these wastes are simply delivered to digesters or directly to lagoons. Add the compounded toxicity of industrial wastes to these wastes already in lagoons filled with manure and antibiotics, hormones, copper sulfates and voluminous amounts of barn cleaners, and this toxic soup is already land spread in voluminous amounts here in Kewaunee County, and in other areas of the state.

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Rural Groups Call to Halt DNR Manure Spraying Test

Human Exposure to Toxins a Dangerous Threat

COLOMA, WI – Last week, a coalition of grassroots groups concerned with DNR issuing a  permit that allows for testing human exposure to untreated waste wrote to Kitty Rhoades, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, urging her to immediately halt this testing.

“Safe handling and disposal of agricultural waste is the responsibility of our state agency which exists to protect and promote the health and safety of the people of Wisconsin,” said Bob Clarke, president Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network. “As head of DHS, Secretary Rhoades has the moral and ethical responsibility to put a stop to this non-scientific testing.”

Industrial farming has created an unprecedented volume of sewage with the state’s rapidly expanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) now numbering over 250.  In response, the dairy industry is promoting aerial spraying systems to disperse this untreated toxic waste.

DNR admits to the presence of pathogens in manure, many harmful to human health, such as campylobacter, salmonella, and E.coli. Currently underway is field research on human exposure to pathogens via spray irrigation funded by DNR.  A Manure Workgroup was also formed to study the data as well as reports submitted by the public.

Before this research was officially concluded, DNR issued a water pollution permit to Ebert Dairy Enterprises, a CAFO in Kewaunee County, giving the operation immediate approval for aerial manure spraying to begin.

Residents in Kewaunee County are concerned with contamination of their water, intensified odors and sickening exposure to drift which threatens their homes, lakes and parks and nearby restaurants.

“As an ecologist with experience in microbiology, I am appalled with this idea,” said Dr. Robert Wallace, Biology professor at Ripon College.

Robyn Mulhaney of Algoma, co-owner of a small business which exhibits the works of artists and is dependent on tourism, says “Busloads of people tour our establishment and display gardens here. We have 50-60,000 visitors throughout the season and welcome seniors and special needs groups. Dangerous exposure to drift within a county that currently supplies wind turbine energy would be sufficient to destroy my business and the health of my visitors. This is a travesty of the worse kind.”

Andrew Craig, DNR Resource Specialist, states his department’s position in a letter dated October of 2013 addressing community concerns. “We remain committed to adoption of new technologies…such as manure irrigation systems that…foster growth of the dairy industry in Wisconsin and are protective of human health.”

Dr. Peter Sigmann, retired internist, Medical College of Wisconsin, who resides in Sturgeon Bay, comments on the health consequences from spray irrigation.  “I see the potential for widespread exposure to dangerous bacteria which could be difficult to treat.  It is not in the realm of imagination to predict disease of epidemic proportions.”

Concerned citizens know that when manure sprayers are permitted for one CAFO, legislation will follow for adoption throughout the state.  Grassroots groups ask for response and immediate action from Kitty Rhoades, Secretary Wisconsin Department of Health Services.



4 Wisconsin dairy workers face charges of mistreating animals after undercover investigation

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Four Wisconsin dairy farm workers were charged this week with mistreating animals after an animal-rights group released secretly recorded video that showed employees beating injured cows. The workers were charged Tuesday in Brown County with either two or three counts of mistreating animals. Each count carries a maximum penalty of nine months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

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Disputed expansion of dairy might have statewide impact

In a Green Bay hearing beginning Tuesday, a controversial attempt to expand a dairy farm set to become the fifth largest in Wisconsin will be challenged in a case that could have a far-reaching impact on how Wisconsin regulates industrial-size livestock farms. Five neighbors of Kinnard Farms Inc. in northeastern Wisconsin are arguing that the state Department of Natural Resources should allow the farm to expand but tighten environmental protection by requiring surface and groundwater monitoring and limiting the number of cows.

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High-Capacity Well Bill Moving Through Legislature

A bill that would make it easier to drill or replace high-capacity wells in rural Wisconsin will  soon be taken up by the full legislature. Sen. Neal Kedzie, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee, says his proposal aims to limit the amount of authority the DNR has on large wells, which he claims was never lawmakers' intent when the original policy was implemented 10 years ago. Read more

August 10, 2013 - Wisconsin Farmers Union Summer Conference

Please join us for the Wisconsin Farmers Union summer conference in Chippewa Falls on Saturday, August 10th!   Tge afternoon panel on water quantity issues will be especially informative.  

When:  9:30am-3:15 p.m. Where: Kamp Kenwood on Lake Wissota, Chippewa Falls

Afternoon speakers include:

  • Jimmy Bramblett, NRCS State Conservationist
  • Neil Koch, retired hydrogeologist with the US Geological Survey
  • Andy Diercks, potato and vegetable grower, Coloma Farms, Waushara County
  • Lynn Utesch, beef farmer, Keewaunee County, member of Keewaunee Cares
  • Dan Masterpole, Chippewa County Conservationist, coordinator of 5-year Chippewa County groundwater study

More information at


High-capacity wells possibly lowering some lake levels

  Long Lake has lost its shoreline. Dock after dock dead-ends in the weeds. It looks more like an unmowed lawn with a pond in the middle than a place where families used to water ski and fish.

Once up to 12 feet deep, the lake is now closer to three, having bounced back slightly since 2006 when the lake dried up completely.

“Long Lake was once a trophy bass lake. So when we moved here, in the first two years, my boys were catching bass like crazy,” said Brian Wolf, who owns a cabin on Long Lake. “It was like catching fish in a barrel.”

In the six-county area known as Wisconsin’s Central Sands — made up of Adams, Portage, Marquette, Wood, Waushara and Waupaca counties — residents like Wolf have watched water levels in lakes and small streams drop for years. Twenty miles north, a cold-water trout stream, the Little Plover River, just landed on American Rivers’ list of the country’s 10 most endangered rivers because of its declining flow.

The receding water levels have come as the number of high-capacity wells — those that can draw 100,000 gallons of water per day — have dramatically increased.

In the early 1950s, there were fewer than 100 high-capacity wells in the Central Sands, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Today, there are more than 3,000 — 40 percent of the state’s total.

Farmers say they need the water to irrigate crops like potatoes and corn.

“Our groundwater is not decreasing,” said Duane Maatz, head of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, an Antigo-based group representing 140 growers. “If the flows are different, there has to be another reason.”

But water quality advocates and experts say the wells are drawing down surface water and affecting recreational lakes and streams.

“Every gallon of water that gets pulled out of the ground is a gallon that’s not going to the stream or lake it’s supposed to,” said George Kraft, a hydrologist with UW-Stevens Point and the UW Extension.

While water levels fluctuate based on rainfall, Kraft’s research shows that water in lakes near high-capacity wells have declined steadily since 2000 while those farther away have not. His research identifying agricultural irrigation as a factor in the drawdown was published in the journal Groundwater in 2012.

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Ryan Schmudlach: Factory farms threaten Wisconsin waterways, tourism

As a small-business owner who is very reliant on clean water in Spring Green, I am concerned and disappointed with a recent decision by the Environmental Protection Agency not to propose new regulations to protect our waterways from industrial animal farm runoff. Industrial animal farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs, raise large volumes of cows, chickens and/or pigs on a relatively small amount of land. Unfortunately, they are notorious for over concentrating animal manure in liquid "lagoons" that seep into our groundwater, lakes and rivers.

In a court-approved settlement in 2010, the EPA was required to broaden the definition of a CAFO and to ensure more stringent permitting. By the EPA’s own estimates, 43 percent of Americans have drinking water contaminated by pathogens such as E. coli or salmonella from CAFOs. This is in part because fewer than 60 percent of industrial farms are even required to operate under EPA permits, allowing these industrial farms to over-concentrate their manure lagoons without regard to nearby waterways.

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New Short Film Highlights the Peril to Waters in Wisconsin’s Central Sands

June 16, 2013 Coloma, WI – On the eve of an historic vote by the Wisconsin assembly on a budget that includes a controversial provision stripping citizens of their right to challenge the DNR’s permitting of high capacity wells when cumulative impacts are not considered, Friends of the Central Sands (FOCS) releases a short film highlighting why this issue is so important.  Not Standing Still: The Degradation of Wisconsin’s Waters clearly shows the loss of water to Wisconsin’s lakes and streams. 

To view the film follow this link:  Or:

Recently the Little Plover River in Portage County was named number 4 on the 2013 list of the 10 most endangered rivers in the United States by American Rivers. Other bodies of water such as Pickerel Lake and Lake Huron are drying up as depicted in the film. 

Over the past few weeks thousands of citizens and dozens of environmental organizations have expressed concerns of the Joint Finance Committee approved measure (Motion #375) which is specifically aimed at the public’s rights to protect the environment from high-capacity well pumping.  The motion states: 

Move to specify that a person may not challenge an application for, or a permit for, a high capacity well based on the lack of consideration of the cumulative environmental impacts of the proposed high capacity well together with existing wells when approving the high capacity well permit. This provision would apply to applications for high capacity well permits and high capacity well permits in effect before, on, or after, the effective date of the bill, and for applications and permits for which final administrative or judicial review has not been completed on the effective date of the bill. 

“It is our goal to not just talk about but to show the impacts that the loss of water is having on our lakes and streams,” said Bob Clarke of Friends of the Central Sands. “Clearly there is a problem that needs to be addressed and can no longer be ignored.”


Friends of the Central Sands (FOCS) works to promote a healthy Central Sands landscape through natural resource stewardship, community involvement, scientific knowledge and advocacy.

Guest Column: Factory farm externalities: Behind the walls and beyond the fence line

By Karen L. Hudson Ag-gag legislation allows agribusiness entities such as factory farms to enter into what we could call a “secret witness protection” program. They aim for “the program” to be kept secret “with 24-hour-a-day protection from outsiders.” This comparison I refer to comes directly from the very goals of United States Federal Witness Protection Program. In fact, intensive livestock production’s most conspicuous goal is an exclusive protection program from the public.

The current factory farm blueprint (touted as efficient modern production agriculture) has failed to provide socially and morally acceptable animal health and well-being. The public already knows it, and the industry realizes it is losing its public relations battle. It is equally important, however, that the public remains cognizant of the other threats ag-gag bills incur on humans and the environment. A bit of ‘sound science’

New research and “sound science” provides the facts for this discussion. Data now show that as the number of animals increase on a facility, animal husbandry quality goes down. In turn, crowded and stressed livestock have a higher pathogen (an agent that causes disease) loading rate in their manure. About 75 percent of the drugs, such as antibiotics routinely fed to animals in confinement eventually, end up in its waste. For disposal, it is injected, spread or sprayed on the surrounding fields ­ even in high-wind situations, causing an aerosolized drift that can cover surface waters, buildings and properties.

In the state of Iowa, federal health investigators discovered antibiotic-resistant bacteria and other pollutants commonly associated with hog manure in wells, drainage ditches and waterways offsite and well beyond the property line of factory farms. Data indicate that people living near factory farms have a greater likelihood of having contaminated wells. USDA has stated that factory farms over-apply animal waste to the tune of $2 billion a year in environmental costs.

It’s not just the smell

Over the past two decades, research shows factory farm neighbors are reporting similar health problems as individuals who work daily inside of confinement buildings. Small airborne particulate emissions that escape these operations can contain, among other things, viruses, endotoxins, dusts, drugs, feed, disinfectants, pesticides, hair, dander, skin parts, insects and even dried urine and fecal matter.

New research has found that air inside livestock confinements can be composed of dangerous “superbug” bacteria resistant to important antibiotics used in human medicine. One study showed antibiotic-resistant staph and other pathogens inside of homes downwind of swine facilities, which means shutting doors and windows is of no protection for families inside.

Neighbors routinely experience health changes such as headaches, nausea and vomiting, and mood changes when they are exposed to chemical plumes from barns and manure application sites. Odorous compounds and more than 160 types of gases such as hydrogen sulfide, methane, ammonia and more flow beyond the property lines of factory farms.

Hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of manure breakdown, is particularly dangerous in that it is neurologically toxic, even at low ambient levels. Infants, children, immune-compromised individuals and the elderly are especially susceptible when exposed to these fugitive emissions.

They come in all shapes and forms

Ag-gag laws appear in many shapes and sizes. Some make criminals out of citizens taking or possessing photographic evidence of animal factories without the owners’ consent, which takes away the public’s ability to document illegal activities that should be subject to investigations and enforcement. Some masquerade as “no chronic complainer bills,” which put citizens at a disadvantage, and even subject them to fines if they file multiple reports. Others, like “no anonymous complaints” legislation, take away the ability of citizens to file complaints anonymously, which publicly identifies the individual complainer, making available his personal information. This casts a chilling effect on anyone living in small-town America who might consider reporting suspected violations for fear of retaliation.


Because of weak regulations, poor enforcement and a lack of funding for states to monitor and respond to the needs of the public, neighborhoods are routinely shouldered with the burden (externality) of being the “watchdogs” to consistently document odor events, spills, fish kills and other incidents that seem out of the ordinary.

The atrocity of ag-gag laws is that they make innocent neighbors, which include schools, churches and businesses ­ and even workers inside these facilities ­ criminals if they act to report events that would uphold the law and protect the community.

Ag-gag bills can be likened to public health inspectors forbidden from documenting food safety violations at filthy food processing facilities and restaurants.

Factory farm supporters claim they are efficient, but in fact, they reap their profits at the expense of the animals, public health and the environment. Ag-gag attempts to silence the expanding worldwide uproar about the glaring externalities that occur behind the walls and even beyond the property lines of factory farms.

Karen L. Hudson is an Illinois farmer, mother and grandmother, a member of Socially Responsible Agricultural Project and co-founder of Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water.

Friends of the Central Sands: Wisconsin Legislature poised to take away citizen’s rights to protect our water!

Media Contact: Bob Clarke, 608-296-1443 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 29, 2013

COLOMA – In a very disturbing move, the Joint Finance Committee last Wednesday approved a measure (Motion #375) specifically aimed at the public’s rights to protect the environment from high-capacity well pumping. This was done without advance notice and well into the evening. The motion states:

Move to specify that a person may not challenge an application for, or a permit for, a high capacity well based on the lack of consideration of the cumulative environmental impacts of the proposed high capacity well together with existing wells when approving the high capacity well permit. This provision would apply to applications for high capacity well permits and high capacity well permits in effect before, on, or after, the effective date of the bill, and for applications and permits for which final administrative or judicial review has not been completed on the effective date of the bill.

“This is a stealth motion being inserted into the budget on a critical environmental issue,“ said Bill Vance of Friends of the Central Sands (FOCS). “Our waters are being depleted before our eyes and nothing is being done to prevent this from continuing. And now the Legislature would make it even more difficult for concerned citizens to act.” Just last month, the Little Plover River in Portage County was named number 4 on the 2013 list of the 10 most endangered rivers in the United States by American Rivers. Other bodies of water such as Pickerel Lake and Lake Huron are drying up.

The Note to the motion specifically mentions the issues that “…have been raised in legal proceedings regarding the extent to which DNR must consider, may consider, or may not consider, the environmental impacts of existing wells when making a decision on whether or not to approve a permit for a proposed high capacity well related to both statutory requirements and Article 9, Section 1 of the Wisconsin Constitution (known as the public trust doctrine). For example, a recent DNR decision to approve a high capacity well permit for a confined animal feeding operation is currently the subject of a contested case hearing, relating to whether DNR should have considered cumulative environmental impacts when it issued the permit.”

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last week, the joint finance motion is brought at the same time a legal case involving the Richfield Dairy in Adams County is pending. Friends of the Central Sands and others have challenged high-capacity well approvals issued to the CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation).

Said Bob Clarke of Friends of the Central Sands, “We brought this case so that the permitting of high capacity wells in the state is done in a prudent manner taking into account wells that already exist and are drawing down water in the same general location. Although they agree that there is harm when considering the cumulative impacts, the DNR refuses to look at these and instead only looks at the impact of one well at a time. This is ridiculous.”

“We find it very interesting that this motion is coming up now,” said Bill Vance. “Where did this come from, and why was it pushed through in one day in the joint finance committee? Motions like these are why policy has no place in the budget.”

“We will continue to fight for waters of the state,” said Clarke. “This is our heritage.”

Results of recent private well-testing in Kewaunee County show over one in five wells are unsafe, testing positive for E Coli, Coliform, and Nitrates

Forward Institute
“Evidence before Ideology”
For Immediate Release: Results of recent private well-testing in Kewaunee County show over one in five wells are unsafe, testing positive for E Coli, Coliform, and Nitrates. The tests were conducted by a state-certified lab at the Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Department, and demonstrate a failure on the part of the DNR to protect the people of Kewaunee County and their water.
The complete analysis is attached, and may be found on the Institute’s website:
Please contact Scott Wittkopf with any questions:
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has always protected the water we rely on for our very lives. Today, there is strong evidence that the DNR is failing the people of Kewaunee County, leaving the area’s water quality and availability to the whims of powerful corporate agriculture and factory farm interests.
Recent tests conducted on private wells in Kewaunee County show that 15% of wells tested positive for coliform, over 35% tested positive for elevated nitrate levels (12% tested higher than 10 ppm, considered unfit for any human consumption), and 22% were considered “unsafe” due to bacterial or nitrate contamination.
Forward Institute derived median levels of contamination from the nine years of testing data (from the Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Department) stratifying for weather conditions, which showed the recent test results to be consistent with the median levels. Of note is that under dry conditions, the percentage of unsafe wells is below the standard deviation, implying that runoff of applied manure is playing a significant role in the contamination. Also noteworthy is the absence of E coli under dry conditions. Under wet conditions, contamination levels increase, particularly E coli. Year-round random tests reported higher than the standard deviation of unsafe wells, implying that a larger random-sample, year-round study should be conducted to better understand the impact on local wells.
Wisconsin has laws that protect our water, and the DNR is looking the other way. Meanwhile, evidence continues to grow that factory farms contribute to contaminating what is a life necessity – water. Additional study and research on the impact of factory farm expansion on water and health should be required before additional permits are approved by the DNR. 
Figure 1. Median Wells Testing Unsafe 8/2004 – 3/2013, Stratified by Total Sample, Weather Conditions, and Year-Round Point Samples. 
Inline image 1
Note: Vertical bars represent one standard deviation from the median of Total Daily Samples.
Table 1. Median Wells Testing Unsafe as Percent and Number.
Total Tested
Median Tested
Median Unsafe
Median Unsafe %
Total Daily Samples
Dry Conditions
Wet Conditions
Year Round Samples

Concerns grow about hormone-disrupting chemicals in Wisconsin water

by Kate Golden
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism 
In America’s Dairyland, steroid hormones from livestock have been found in the snowmelt runoff from large cattle-feeding operations.
In the Shenandoah River (which starts in Virginia and feeds into the Potomac River), researchers investigating recurring fish kills found something in the polluted waters had feminized 80 to 100 percent of the male smallmouth bass, causing them to produce immature eggs in their testes.
And in Minnesota, three weeks after researchers put male minnows in lakes, they developed intersex characteristics.
All over the country, chemicals known to disrupt or act like hormones seem to have permeated the waters and may be harming wildlife — or people.
“The more you know, the more scared you are,” said Kimberlee Wright, executive director of the Wisconsin-based nonprofit law center Midwest Environmental Advocates.
Known as endocrine disruptors, these chemicals are in soaps, plastics, industrial solvents, pesticides and herbicides, as well as human or animal medicines. Some occur naturally but hundreds are man-made and found everywhere that modern chemistry has improved people’s lives.
A United Nations report in February declared endocrine disruptors a “global threat” to wildlife and humans, particularly infants and children. Close to 800 chemicals are known or suspected to disrupt hormone function, but thousands in use have never been tested, the U.N. report said.
Despite growing evidence of risks, state and federal governments have issued little guidance on how much of these suspected endocrine disruptors in our lakes, streams and groundwater constitute danger for fish, wildlife or people. These chemicals are largely unregulated.
Wisconsin has not systematically looked for endocrine disruptors statewide. Research and regulation of them is poorly funded and loosely coordinated, according to a Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism review of records and interviews with government officials and environmental experts.
“We’re not a building full of bureaucrats ignorant to the problem,” said Brad Wolbert, chief of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’s recycling and solid waste program. “It’s just that it’s a really big problem.”
Dozens of pesticides have been associated with endocrine disruption. Pesticides have commonly been detected in surface waters, and in an estimated one-third of drinking water wells in Wisconsin, according to a survey by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Endocrine disruptors mess with the body’s signaling systems, which respond with exquisite sensitivity to tiny amounts of hormones like estrogen or testosterone. Hormones regulate growth and development, stress response, metabolism and a host of other functions.
High levels of exposure to certain endocrine disruptors have been found to cause diabetes or cancer. But even exceptionally low doses may be harmful — although research funded by the chemical industry argues the evidence for this has been overstated.
Scientists coined the term “endocrine disruption” in 1991, at a conference in Racine, after troubling findings emerged from the Great Lakes in the 1980s. Researchers found that women who ate as few as two meals a month of PCB-contaminated Lake Michigan fish delivered smaller babies, and their children later scored worse on memory and attention-span tests.
Scientific evidence has begun to link “exposure to some toxic chemicals to a range of reproductive and childhood developmental problems,” according to a 2010 report from the nonprofit Pew Health Group.
Endocrine disruptors are suspected of causing declining sperm counts, infertility, obesity, genital deformities, breast cancer, prostate cancer, retarded sexual development, and impaired memory or intelligence in children — among other problems.
At the same time, none of the dozens of experts interviewed said Wisconsinites should stop drinking their well water or swimming in lakes. The science isn’t there yet, they said.
Minnesota outpacing Wisconsin
The DNR does not have a testing program for the presence of unregulated endocrine disruptors in surface waters, according to Susan Sylvester, head of the agency’s water quality bureau.
“We don’t have the budget for it. We don’t have any staff on it,” Sylvester said.
Said Melissa Malott, water program director of the environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin: “There’s this critical issue, where there’s not funding at the state level or the federal level to figure out how widespread it is or how problematic it is.”
It is quite a contrast to neighboring Minnesota, which sampled 50 lakes last summer for these and other contaminants of emerging concern.
“Minnesota has been by far the most proactive in terms of funding statewide studies on endocrine disruptors,” said Dana Kolpin, lead scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Emerging Contaminants project.
Minnesota has spent at least $1.42 million on such research since 2008, funded in part by a voter-approved sales tax that pours millions into a Clean Water Fund each year. The state’s sampling and monitoring for effects in rivers, streams and groundwater has been conducted in partnership with the USGS and St. Cloud State University.
Wisconsin, like other states, relies on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for guidance on how to safeguard its waters. But the EPA has not provided such guidance, DNR spokesman Bill Cosh wrote in an email.
Seventeen years ago, Congress told the EPA to start screening chemicals for endocrine disruption. The task included an estimated 87,000 chemicals, since narrowed to 10,000. From 1999 to 2010, the EPA received $131.5 million for endocrine disruptor research, though not all of it was spent that way.
Hundreds of studies have since documented various chemicals’ potential to interfere with endocrine systems. Yet in 2011 the EPA’s inspector general slammed the agency, saying the EPA still “has not determined whether any chemical is an endocrine disruptor.”
The EPA said in a statement that it had to start “from scratch” to develop scientifically rigorous new screening methods, and added that “the pace of the program has increased.”
Chemicals widespread in the environment
In 2002, the USGS showed that these chemicals were widespread in streams susceptible to contamination. Since that landmark national study, research on them has exploded.
Potential sources of endocrine disruptors include wastewater treatment plants and urban, industrial or agricultural runoff.
Most often, endocrine disruption in wildlife — like the Minnesota intersex minnows or the Shenandoah River bass — cannot be blamed on a single chemical because the waters contain so many different pollutants.
Some endocrine disruptors are hormones, like the progesterone that University of Wisconsin researchers recently found in runoff from Wisconsin livestock operations. The good news from that EPA-funded research was that the hormones degraded so rapidly the researchers surmised “minimal impact on aquatic organisms.”
But they also a reported a more ominous finding: the levels of progesterone found were high enough to slow down male laboratory minnows’ sperm and decrease females’ fertility.
Some chemicals are not hormones but just act like them, or block them.
And some chemicals in Wisconsin’s environment already known to cause health problems are now pegged as possible endocrine disruptors. These include PCBs in the Fox River, neurotoxic mercury in the lakes, and pockets of arsenic, nitrates and the pesticide atrazine in wells.
No widespread sampling in Wisconsin
DNR acknowledged in a January 2012 report that pharmaceuticals and personal care products “have been found in low but surprising quantities throughout the Great Lakes,” and warned that “these products are a cause for concern as they have been linked to several problems such as intersex fish.”
The report added: “In an effort to be proactive and protective of humans and wildlife, Wisconsin should consider developing water quality standards for these pharmaceutical byproducts.”
But it noted that it would need a surface water monitoring program “to determine the scale of this potential problem in the state.”
As for pesticides, the report said that with new products on the market and new toxicity data, the DNR — with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Department of Health Services — should review water quality standards for pesticides “to determine which, if any, need to be updated” to protect people and wildlife.
But it also said pesticides were “not ranked as a top priority by internal staff.”
In lieu of an overarching approach to endocrine disruptors, DNR addresses them through existing programs.
For instance, landfills — from which endocrine disruptors and other chemicals may leach into groundwater — are subject to much tighter standards now than several decades ago, Wolbert said.
The cleanup of Superfund sites or brownfields may target regulated chemicals but clean up unregulated endocrine disruptors along the way.
The agency is also trying to educate the public about proper drug disposal. It recently published a report estimating that just 2 percent of the pharmaceutical waste in Wisconsin is properly collected through take-back programs.
And in conjunction with Minnesota, Wisconsin warns people not to eat some Mississippi River fish because they are contaminated with the potential endocrine disruptor PFOS, once a key ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard.
Like other states, Wisconsin and Minnesota must report to Congress every two years on their water quality protection efforts.
Minnesota’s recent report contains lengthy descriptions of its water sampling for endocrine disruptors, development of health standards and latest attempts to identify statewide trends.
Wisconsin’s names algae blooms and climate change as emerging water issues. It includes a brief recommendation to look for “recently discovered contaminants” in groundwater, but does not address the issue of endocrine disruptors.
Cosh wrote that the agency is aware Minnesota is doing more, and added, “Our current surveillance program is supported by the resources we have available.”
Advocates: Government failing to protect public
Wright, the Midwest Environmental Advocates lawyer, said environmentalists have not agitated for much action on endocrine disruptors in Wisconsin despite a need for it.
“There’s so much trying to hold the line on environmental rollbacks that addressing emerging issues is almost impossible,” she said.
Malott, of Clean Wisconsin, said state and federal governments have failed to adequately address the risks.
“We expect government to think ahead for us. We expect government to figure out what the problems are,” Malott said. “And there is more than enough evidence to implicate these chemicals.”
This project was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Fund for Environmental Journalism. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.