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Researchers have found elevated numbers of tumors in fish in the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers, suggesting that efforts to remove carcinogenic contaminants from the three waterways have been unsuccessful.
The study, which was led by the U.S. Geological Survey, found elevated skin and liver tumors in white suckers. It also found that some male white suckers sampled for the study had testicular tumors.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the finding surprised researchers, because those tumors had not often been found in other cleanup projects of polluted rivers.
The study, published in the Journal of Fish Diseases, said the exact cause of the tumors isn’t known. But previous research has suggested that exposure to contaminants called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can cause liver tumors in fish.
PAH pollution in the water can come from contaminant runoff from a number of sources, including power plants, industrial processes and vehicles. In humans, exposure to PAHs has been linked to cardiovascular disease and poor fetal development.
The study comes at a time when the state’s Republican leaders have rolled back clean-water regulations. They’ve also joined dozens of other GOP-controlled states in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to block federal laws aimed to prevent further degradation of water quality.
Gov. Scott Walker has politicized the Department of Natural Resources, firing many of its scientists and making it clear that business interests must be prioritized over maintaining clean water standards. In mid-May, Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel ruled that environmental officials at the DNR cannot make decisions about high-capacity wells in order to prevent contaminants from spreading to local water supplies — not if large factory farms disagree with those decisions.
Aversion to conservation laws has led to a drastic reduction in the enforcement of the state’s increasingly lax water pollution standards.
Wisconsin voters, however, are concerned about pollution in lakes and streams, contamination of drinking water supplies and depleted aquifers. The fight to preserve clean water in the state is becoming a major issue in this year’s elections, including in the race between Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.