Oil found in a ditch near a Marinette facility known for mixing firefighting foam forced the company to temporarily shut down a PFAS filtration system last week.
Tyco Fire Products, a subsidiary of Johnson Controls, notified the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources of a sheen on top of the water in Ditch B on Thursday, according to a news release.
Typically, the water moving through that ditch is treated for contamination of PFAS — so-called forever chemicals — but the company decided to shut down the filtration system in order to prevent any of the oil from damaging the system.
The company installed booms and absorbent padding to catch and clean up the substance, the release said, and is in the process of conducting a cleanup. The PFAS filtration system is expected to be turned back on later this week, said John Perkins, vice president of health and safety for Johnson Controls.
The sheen on the top of the water caused a rainbow-like appearance that the contractor spotted on Thursday, Perkins said. The company notified the DNR immediately about the sheen and tracked it up the ditch into a residential area.
At this time, there is no indication of where the oil came from. The DNR is asking for anyone with knowledge about it to call (800) TIP-WDNR.
JCI/Tyco collected surface water samples to be analyzed by a laboratory. The substance was traced to a residential area upstream of the treatment center, according to a release from the company.
Christine Haag, director of the remediation & redevelopment program for the DNR, said Monday that the spill was a one-time event.
Ditch B in August was found to have elevated levels of PFAS, or forever chemicals, and required updates in order to treat additional water. Representatives from the company said that the levels — which were nearly 50 times higher than the recommended level for groundwater — were due to an unusually rainy summer and higher water levels in the ditch.
The company said that it would work to raise the capacity for water treatment in the ditch by installing a new pump system and addressing the accumulation of sediment.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of man-made chemicals used for their water- and stain-resistant qualities in products like clothing and carpet, nonstick cookware, packaging and firefighting foam.
The chemicals are persistent, remaining both in the environment and human body over time. Accumulation of the chemicals in the body can be linked to cancer, studies have shown, or other adverse health effects.
The chemicals have been a legacy problem in Marinette at the Tyco facility, where fire-fighting foam is mixed. The company starting mixing and testing the compounds outdoors in 1962, but it was halted in 2017 when environmental pollution came to light.
Laura Schulte can be reached at email@example.com and twitter.com/SchulteLaura.