Environmental group wants stricter Michigan PFAS standards

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Equipment used to test for PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals) in drinking water at Trident Laboratories in Holland, Mich., pictured on Monday, June 18, 2018. Trident Labs added testing for perfluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS, in March after toxic contamination was identified at a former tannery near Rockford.

Environmentalists say the state needs a stricter standard to address toxic chemicals in communities’ drinking water supplies and should dramatically lower Michigan's health advisory level.

The head of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters said Wednesday that Michigan should depart from the federal threshold of 70 parts per trillion for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, known as PFAS,  and reduce it closer to 5 parts per trillion — a 93 percent drop.

The stricter standard would mean that more than 20 Michigan communities have suspect water supplies. State regulators say they are exploring whether the stricter standard is scientifically justified. 

The call for changes to the state’s contaminant threshold comes shortly after the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced it is nearly halfway through testing Michigan’s 1,841 public water systems and schools with their own wells.

An independent advisory panel of scientists is looking into the possibility of lowering the threshold for PFAS contamination, said the MDEQ’s Scott Dean. However, he noted 22 of 50 states have any PFAS standards and only four have a threshold lower than Michigan’s.

The state’s PFAS task force was “very active in lobbying for increased research into standards” when it attended a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency summit in Washington, D.C., in May, Dean said.  

PFAS are chemicals that have been used in firefighting foams, food packaged in the materials, and in commercial household products or manufacturing facilities.

The roughly 11,300 sites where PFAS-containing products could have been used or disposed — such as fire stations, refineries, landfills and military bases — serve as a road map for the state to develop a schedule for its $1.7 million survey of 1,841 public water systems and school wells. The survey is part of the $23 million effort to locate PFAS contamination, identify sources and oversee cleanups.

So far, the testing has found one community eclipsed the 70 parts per trillion threshold.

After the water supply for the city of Parchment and neighboring Cooper Township in Kalamazoo County was found to have 1,587 parts per trillion of PFAS, the communities were placed under a state of emergency. Officials warned residents not to drink the water or cook with it.

The state level of 70 parts per trillion “is not safe,” and scientific research indicates it should be lower, said Lisa Wozniak, executive director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

“The state is using the EPA's non-enforceable advisory level of 70 parts per trillion to decide whether water in our schools is safe for our children to drink, but this level has been proven to be far too high to protect our kids,” Wozniak said.

To lead on the effort to address PFAS contamination, the state should pass its own enforceable drinking water standard, Wozniak said, preferably the 5 parts per trillion standard state Rep. Winnie Brinks introduced in legislation at the end of 2017.

The Grand Rapids Democrat’s bill has to have a hearing in the Natural Resources Committee.

Of the samples for which the state has received test results, 318 have tested between 0 and 10 parts per trillion and 22 between 10 and 70 parts per trillion. By the league’s suggested standards, those 22 communities and perhaps more would exceed the health advisory level.

The state’s PFAS task force is waiting for an indication from the federal government regarding new safe levels to ensure any new standards are science-based, Dean said. He’s hopeful the state’s ongoing testing will shed more light on the issue as well.

“When we get that complete data set at the end of the year, that will really help us develop what the baseline is for PFAS contamination,” he said.


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