MARINETTE — A Wisconsin company that makes firefighting foam knew its toxic products were contaminating groundwater at least four years before notifying residents, according to state records.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources records show that Tyco Fire Products discovered soil and well contamination on the Marinette manufacturer's fire training property in 2013, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported. The contamination involves a class of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which are linked to cancer and other health issues.
The company was found to have some of the highest known concentrations of the chemicals in groundwater and soil in Wisconsin, according to the records.
In November 2017, Tyco, a Johnson Controls International unit, acknowledged that the chemicals had spread beyond its Marinette facility and suspended spraying foam products outdoors. The following month, the company started distributing bottled water to residents whose private wells may be affected by the contamination.
Tyco tested 168 wells and 56 have shown evidence of the chemicals, the company said.
State officials said Wisconsin law requires companies to immediately report pollution , but the company defended its actions by saying that little was known about PFAS at the time.
"In 2013, there was not the level of awareness and information as there is today associated with PFOS/PFOA," said Fraser Engerman, a spokesman for Johnson Controls International.
But scientists have warned about the health impacts and other companies have phased out production of the chemicals for more than a decade.
Tyco has also claimed that the company didn't know about contamination beyond the property until 2016.
"It wasn't until 2016 that we had data that showed we had concentrations of these compounds at the edge of the property, so we then began the series of tests which led us to where we are today," the company's website states.
Doug Oitzinger, the city's former mayor, dismissed Tyco's explanation.
"This isn't news to them," he said. "They know that these pollutants have been judged an environmental danger ."
Janell and Duane Goldsmith have twice tested their well water and found chemical contamination above the federal health advisory threshold. Duane Goldsmith has been diagnosed with gastrointestinal stromal tumor cancer and Janell Goldsmith had pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, according to a lawsuit filed in December. The couple's two sons also have had developmental delays, the lawsuit states.
"They've known about this for how long — and they have been using these chemicals?" Janell Goldsmith said. "You don't expect it to happen to your family and to your community. So much crosses your mind."