I-Team

Residents urged to test water for molybdenum

CREATED May. 14, 2013 - UPDATED: May. 14, 2013

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CALEDONIA - Like most of us, Jill Buchmann took for granted that the water her kids drink is clean and safe. It was alarming when she learned what is coming out of her family's Caledonia well is tainted.

"I'm thinking of all the water I had them drink over that time and now to find out the levels weren't good or health for kids," Buchmann said.

The contaminant is a metal called molybdenum. It is being detected in a growing number of residential wells.

"It's definitely scary to think that potentially our whole county could be impacted by this or even beyond our county," Buchmann said.

The I-Team previously exposed that families in Caledonia and Oak Creek, near the We Energies power plant, have been dealing with this toxin for years.

Tests are now revealing the problem is far more widespread. Wells are testing positive for elevated levels of molybdenum in Racine, Milwaukee, Kenosha and Waukesha Counties.

"We're learning that molybdenum is fairly widespread," said DNR Southeast Regional Director Eric Nitschke.

So many home wells are testing for high levels of molydenum that the DNR is hosting informational events like a recent open house in Franklin.

When asked if people could get sick from drinking water with elevated levels of molydenum, Nitschke said, "The answer is yes."

The relatively small amount of molybdenum found in foods like peas, lentils, beans, nuts and eggs is actually an essential part of a healthy diet. But, a study found an exposure to high levels can lead to gout-like symptoms.

The Richards family just found out the well water at their Franklin home is contaminated.

"You figure we'd be ok, but obviously not," Dave Richards said.

"They recommended that we also get a test for molybdenum," Kristine Richards said. "Water is one of our most precious commodities. It definitely needs to be protected and we certainly take it for granted and never realized how much until this happened to us."

A long, expensive DNR study found an industrial site like the We Energies coal power plant in Oak Creek could be to blame for fouling the ground. Molybdenum can leach from coal ash and there is plenty of coal ash in the power plant landfills. However, The study is inconclusive. The DNR report says high levels of molybdenum may simply be naturally occurring in southeast Wisconsin.

Read the full DNR report here.

DNR molydenum information website.

Recommended test area map.