State environmental officials told residents of the Clinton River/Lake St. Clair community Thursday that there was no emerging threat of chemical contamination in the watershed, despite tests showing the presence of the chemicals in the river and Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

“Thankfully, we do not have the public health crisis or impact you have in other parts of the state,” said Tracy Kecskemeti, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s southeast Michigan district coordinator, said. “The message is: our public water supplies are safe."

The state began testing community water sources for PFAS in May. Michigan has identified more than 30 contamination sites that have tested positive for the potentially harmful class of chemicals. The list includes Lake St. Clair and the Clinton River in Macomb County, a small community water supply in Parchment, residential wells around a Rockford tannery in west Michigan, and marshes, rivers and lakes around military bases in Oscoda, Alpena and Grayling.

The department, the Department of Health and Human Services and representatives from the Selfridge led a community briefing Thursday in Clinton Township about efforts to address perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). They are among a group of chemicals used worldwide during the past century in manufacturing, firefighting and thousands of common household and other consumer products.

Since then, experts have become more concerned about the potential effects of high concentrations of the chemicals on human health.

Gov. Rick Snyder has ordered state and local agencies to develop a readiness plan  to address the presence of the harmful chemicals in Michigan. Last year, he created the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team.

The Department of Environmental Quality conducted the meeting "to paint a full picture of what’s going on in the region," , Kecskemeti said.

She noted the presence of PFAS in water testing done near Selfridge. The department is working with the base to determine short- and long-term solutions, she said. “There is going to be a long-term process that we’re going to work on.”

Phillip Ulmer, public affairs officer at Selfridge, said base leaders have invested more than $1.6 million in research and mitigation efforts and are “trying to pinpoint the highest concentrations ... and develop a process that wold remove the contaminants from the soil.”

Meanwhile, the Michigan Air National Guard has committed some $756,000 to response related actions, including investigations, at three sites, as well as tweaked firefighting training standards and worked to treat any releases of aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF, “as if it were a hazardous material spill: requiring immediate cleanup,” Lt.  James Shay said.

The state also is working with industrial sites to reduce discharges as well as exploring other methods to tackle the issue, Kecskemeti said. "There's a multi-pronged approach. ... We have to be doing lots of different things at once."

Jordan Bailey, a toxicologist with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said some chemical levels were found in Lake St. Clair fish, and residents should follow state guidelines that call for limiting the amount eating two types, bluegill and pumpkinseed/sunfish, to four servings per month. But, she stressed, “we don’t have a big drinking water concern in this area.”

The meeting drew members of the Clinton River Watershed Council, which has worked with state environmental officials to learn about the water testing and update residents.

“They’re working hard. They’re following up with all of the water samples,” program manager Kathleen Sexton said. “It’s a very multi-faceted issue.”

Mike Schichtel of Mount Clemens attended the meeting after hearing more about PFAS contamination and wanted to know how the state was working to alleviate the threat. 

He left feeling “more confident they’re monitoring the situation,” he said. “There are so many things in the environment that can affect us.”

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