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LCO Featured in Podcast Series About PFAS Contamination in Wisconsin

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Press Release

 

Madison, Wis.— Public Trust, a new four-part podcast series produced by Midwest Environmental Advocates and Wisconsin Sea Grant explores Wisconsin’s response to PFAS contamination from the perspective of residents who have been directly impacted by these dangerous “forever chemicals.”


Over the course of the series, we visited Peshtigo, French Island, and the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation, where we interviewed community members on-site about how PFAS has impacted their access to clean water, their subsistence hunting and fishing traditions, and more.


The first episode of Public Trust brings listeners to the Mississippi River town of Campbell on French Island, an entire community that can no longer safely use its tap water. French Island resident and local elected official Lee Donahue takes listeners on a tour of the neighborhood and tells the story of how local drinking water was contaminated by PFAS-containing firefighting foam used at the La Crosse Airport. In episode two, listeners meet the French Island residents who rely on regular shipments of drinking water from Culligan, and we explore pathways to restoring clean drinking water.


In episode three, Public Trust takes listeners to the Lac Courte Oreille Reservation. How has PFAS contamination impacted Tribal members? Have PFAS chemicals been found in maple sap, wild rice, fish and other harvestable goods? These are some of the questions the Voigt Intertribal Task Force asked Gavin Dehnert, Wisconsin Sea Grant’s emerging contaminants scientist, after PFAS were found in wolves. This episode explores the beginnings of a three-year tribally-driven research project testing the waters, sap, fish and wild rice of the ceded territories of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan for PFAS.


“Our tribal communities, we really depend on the maple syrup,” said Kathleen Smith of the

 Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC). “That’s one of our first medicines that really awakens from our longtime winter… Of course there’s gonna be a great concern with PFAS because you don’t know how it’s gonna impact the maple sap.”


Smith, who’s job title is Manoomin Ganawandang (she who takes care of the wild rice), is an avid harvester and gatherer. She is concerned about the impact of PFAS in wild rice, fish, and other harvestable goods, but she also urges caution when communicating about contamination.


“Our teachings say if we do not use the wild rice, it might go away and not feel appreciated.” Smith hopes this research project will help educate tribal communities about PFAS without coming across as alarmist. “We want [our people] to continue to exercise their hunting, fishing and gathering rights.”


The project, which is funded by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), will run through 2026.


“It’s a really nice example of tribally driven research that’s important and it helps fill a void,” said Jonathan Gilbert, Biological Services Director for GLIFWC. “I feel good about it.”


In the last episode, we travel to Marinette and Peshtigo to talk with local residents who have been engaged in a yearslong battle with Tyco/Johnson Controls, a multinational company responsible for creating one of the largest sites of PFAS contamination in the country. We learn how community members have come together to fight for clean water and why they are committed for the long haul.


By exploring wicked environmental contamination problems and environmental democracy locally here in the upper Midwest, Public Trust connects affected communities across our state, region, and country as we grapple with industrial pollution and as communities continue to band together to fight for their right to clean water.


All episodes of Public Trust are available for free at midwestadvocates.org/podcast. Listeners can also find Public Trust on Apple, Spotify or wherever they get their podcasts.

 

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