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More Private Wells Contaminated With Molybdenum, Says DNR, but Lakes and Municipal Well Are OK

DNR officials urge private well owners in Muskego and nearby towns to test their wells after finding high levels of molybdenum during a recent study of groundwater, but contamination won't apply to lakes, and city says municipal wells are OK.

High levels of molybdenum were found in homes in Caledonia and Oak Creek near the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant several years ago, but now more wells have been identified, a DNR official said.

The DNR recently tested for molybdenum in 153 private wells in Franklin, Muskego, Norway and Raymond and found high levels of the element in 44 of the wells in those areas too. A well at Raymond School tested at 101 micrograms per liter while the state groundwater standard is 40 mcg/l, according to a story in the Journal Sentinel and the DNR report.

Muskego is highlighted for an instance in a home in the southeastern corner of the city, south of Highway 36, where the level of molybdenum exceeded 40 mcg/l. (See map.)

Eric Nitschke, director of the southeast region of the DNR in Milwaukee, said the big takeaway from the DNR’s report is that more private well owners need to test their water and the DNR needs more data to find out where the molybdenum is coming from.

“Obviously we started looking at Caledonia, but it’s apparent that the molybdenum is elevated in other areas and that’s why we expanded the report into Waukesha, and western Racine counties,” Nitschke said.

What is molybdenum?

One of the issues in determining the source is that molybdenum is a naturally occurring element in the earth’s crust and in water in low levels, but it’s also a byproduct of coal combustion and industrial waste. While humans already have trace amounts of molybdenum in their bodies, drinking water with high levels of molybdenum may carry some risk to humans including digestive problems and gout, according to the report.

Why was the DNR was studying molybdenum?

The DNR expanded the scope of the study after a number of properties in the Caledonia and Oak Creek areas showed elevated levels of molybdenum. We Energies has and continues to provide a number of those residents with bottled water, according to a story published in 2010 in the Journal Times.

But the DNR report identified several potential sources of molybdenum including the We Energies plant coal ash landfill in Caledonia, which is located near the power plant in Oak Creek, Hunts Disposal Landfill in Caledonia located a mile and a half from the We Energies plant (which is currently closed and is a federal Superfund cleanup site) and the PPG Industries property located three miles west of the We Energies plan in Oak Creek.

However, the report concluded the molybdenum did not appear to be coming from Hunts Landfill, and data was inconclusive on whether the We Energies landfill was the source of the molybdenum

“One of the biggest takeaways,” Nitschke said, “is that we need to build an awareness of what molybdenum is and encourage people to have their private wells tested for it, along with bacteria and nitrates.”

But Nitschke doesn’t want people to be alarmed.

“We aren’t telling people to stop drinking the water, we want them to be aware of it,” he said.

In the meantime, Nitschke said the department plans to continue to collect more data and work with the US Geological Survey, the Department of Health Services and the Department of Safety and Professional Services to understand where the molybdenum is coming from.

People who do own private wells with a high level of molybdenum may also consider having their water distilled through a process of reverse osmosis.

“It’s not officially been approved to remove molybdenum, but the process is underway to get it approved,” Nitschke said.

Is there any concern for Muskego's lake water?

Nitschke said the concern is for groundwater only, and that the Muskego lakes are safe. So the bottom line is to keep ice fishing as long as it's thick enough, and feel free to eat what you catch.

What about the municipal wells?

While the statement from the DNR has indicated that city water and those of other community wells would be tested, Scott Kloskowski with the Muskego Department of Public Works said that these wells are already tested regularly, and have not been shown to contain levels of molybdenum in any high levels.

One local firm, SF Analytical Laboratories, Inc.,does perform certified testing and is located in New Berlin. You may contact them if you wish to have your well tested at (262) 754-5300. Cost for testing is usually $13 to $45.

The DNR will hold several informational meetings, but only one has officially been set on Feb. 11 for Caledonia.

Kim Bohlman Sprengel January 26, 2013 at 05:12 PM
sooo...how do you test it? or do you have someone come do it?? and who??
Denise Konkol (Editor) January 26, 2013 at 10:30 PM
At the bottom of the article: One local firm, SF Analytical Laboratories, Inc.,does perform certified testing and is located in New Berlin. You may contact them if you wish to have your well tested at (262) 754-5300. Cost for testing is usually $13 to $45.

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