Local residents want safe, clean drinking water

ADAMS — Nearly 100 people attended a public hearing to call for action over dangerously high nitrate levels in the groundwater near a Central Wisconsin heifer operation. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources granted the hearing as it considers an exemption for nitrate contamination at Burr Oak Heifers in Richfield, Adams County.

“Strong turnout today in opposition to the permit shows just how concerned local citizens are – and they should be,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, staff attorney for Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “Nitrates are a threat to public health at any level above 10 milligrams per liter, and the DNR’s proposed limit of 28 milligrams per liter most certainly exceeds the threshold for what can be considered safe.”

Burr Oak Heifers was required to pay $65,000 for past groundwater contamination under a 2013 Justice Department ruling. However, groundwater at the site remains contaminated. Now DNR proposes to allow nitrate concentrations at the site that are nearly three times higher than the 10 milligram per liter public health standard. DNR based the higher limit on “background concentrations” of nitrates coming from offsite, but it’s possible that the baseline used contained contamination from the site itself. The EPA specifies that infants or pregnant women who consume water in excess of the 10 milligram per liter concentration could become short of breath, seriously ill, or suffer blue baby syndrome, a circulatory ailment that in some cases is fatal.

“DNR has a duty to act in the public interest and to enforce groundwater standards that are protective of public health,” Wheeler said. “Granting an exemption with an alternative limit that is nearly three times the public health standard is unacceptable.”