Skana Aluminum announces discovery of “chemical forever” contamination

A Manitowoc manufacturer has notified the status of toxic “forever chemicals” on its property, but this will not impact the city’s drinking water.

Skana Aluminum said in a statement Thursday that PFOA, one of the most well-known PFAS chemicals, had been found in its field in recent tests.

The drinking water for Manitowoc residents is unlikely to be affected by chemicals as the city draws its water from Lake Michigan instead of groundwater like other cities in Wisconsin.

There are a few homes in the area that appear to have private wells, said Christine Haag, director of remediation and redevelopment for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and those homeowners will be contacted to see if the water is being consumed at from these wells. If so, MNR will likely request permission to test the water.

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The company processes the aluminum and said PFAS is not used in its processes, so it is likely a contamination inherited from companies at the site before Skana.

“PFOA is considered to be a by-product of the non-stick coatings applied to aluminum cookware on the south end of the Manitowoc property by various cookware companies,” the statement said. “These operations ended in 2019.”

Tramontia US Cookware was previously located at the site, but moved its operations to Brazil, where the company had existing factories, according to a 2019 report from the Herald Times Reporter. The company began manufacturing aluminum cookware at the factory in 2005, with the assembly and packaging of the cookware being done in Texas.

When Tramontia closed, Skana already owned the building in which the kitchen utensils were made.

Haag said Skana had performed cleanings at the site for other contaminations, but would not be considered the party responsible for the PFAS contamination. MNR is working to establish who the responsible companies are and, when identified, they will be responsible for carrying out additional testing to determine the extent of the contamination.

“We are going to solve this problem,” she said.

Manitowoc is the latest city to discover PFAS contamination, adding to a list of more than 50 other municipalities in the state, including Marinette, Peshtigo, Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire, La Crosse and Rhinelander.

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Eau Claire was the most recent city to discover compounds in its water system, forcing the city to close some wells.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances, are a family of synthetic chemicals used for their water and stain resistance qualities in products such as clothing and rugs, non-stick cookware, packaging and fire-fighting foams. The family includes 5,000 compounds, which are persistent, remaining both in the environment and in the human body over time.

The chemicals have been linked to types of kidney and testicular cancers, low birth weight, damage to the immune and reproductive systems, altered hormonal regulation, and altered thyroid hormones. Chemicals enter the human body largely through drinking water.

The chemicals are not regulated by the federal government, and the state only has recommended standards, although formal standards are underway.

Laura Schulte can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura.

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