I-Team: Wisconsin does not test for dangerous chemicals in Lake Michigan
Photo: Video by tmj4.com
MILWAUKEE - It seems like they are constantly being closed because of bad bacteria levels. Just this week, an environmental group ranked Wisconsin as having some of the dirtiest beaches in the country.
Now, the I-Team's discovered that might not even be the half of it! There are water quality tests that are not being done.
The Pewaukee Ski Club wows its audience with spectacular moves on the water. While it loves to entertain, the ski club has a much more important goal.
"Having clean water is very important to us," explains Abby Lorenz with the Pewaukee Ski Club.
That is why the Pewaukee Ski Club hosts an annual lake country clean water festival.
"We wanted to really educate the public and let them know that this is our future. We need to take good care of our rivers, our lakes," says Lorenz.
So how clean are our lakes and rivers?
While the DNR tests for chemicals in the surface water like phosphorus and mercury, there are many others not tested for.
One state that does aggressively test it's waters is Minnesota.
In two recent studies costing $250,000, more than 50 chemicals in selected waters across the state, including endocrine disruptors found in healthcare products, which can interfere with hormones in people and wildlife.
They even found trace amounts of cocaine.
"The fact that there were so many chemicals was truly disturbing," says George Meyer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
Meyer is also the former head of the Wisconsin DNR. He says what is in the water to our north could easily be here too, and similar tests need to be done to keep us safe.
"This state, both its culture and recreational use and its economy are dependent on our lakes, streams and groundwater," says Meyer.
But cost is an issue.
Minnesota agencies get a monitoring budget of more than $10 million a year in state tax revenue and federal funds. In Wisconsin, there is no state tax money for this and the DNR only has a total budget $800,000.
Susan Sylvester with the Wisconsin DNR feels the state is doing all it can within that budget, and argues expensive testing is not the answer.
"When we talk about pharmaceuticals, there's no treatment system to remove them from the environment," explains Sylvester.
Sylvester thinks going after chemicals like PCBs and mercury that can be removed from the environment is more important and points out educating the public is key.
"That would mean making sure unwanted pharmaceuticals and healthcare products, as well as expired products, don't get flushed down the toilet," says Sylvester.
While the levels of chemicals they found were relatively low in Minnesota, they were still alarming to many. Similar tests in Wisconsin would be costly and it may take pressure on the state and federal level to fund them.