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Washington — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to hold a roundtable in Kalamazoo on Friday with state and local stakeholders on drinking-water contamination by a potentially harmful class of fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.

Participants will include members of Michigan's congressional delegation, as well as EPA Regional Administrator Cathy Stepp; the agency's Ground Water and Drinking Water Director Peter Grevatt; and Carol Isaacs, director of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team.

The meeting, which is open to the public, is planned for the Kalamazoo Expo Center, Room B, at 2900 Lake St. in Kalamazoo. 

The roundtable comes after two communities in Kalamazoo County in late July were warned about PFAS levels 26 times greater than the lifetime federal health advisory in their drinking water. Bottled water was provided and the city of Parchment ended up connecting its water system to Kalamazoo's. 

Lawmakers in Michigan's delegation had expressed frustration in the past month after EPA didn't include a stop in Michigan as part of its PFAS community engagement tour that visited five other states. 

The EPA had initially planned a public meeting in Michigan but then removed it from its schedule, lawmakers said.

Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph; and Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, extended a formal invitation to EPA during a House hearing last month, in part because of the growth in the number of confirmed PFAS sites in Michigan in recent years — 35 by the state's count.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, has urged EPA officials to go to Oscoda during their trip to Michigan, as Oscoda was among the first nationwide to discover PFAS contamination in its drinking water due to firefighting foam used at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. 

"It is important that you, as the EPA’s representative, see first-hand how local residents are being impacted by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances contamination," Kildee wrote Monday in a letter to Grevatt

"I am confident it will be a valuable experience for local residents as well as the EPA."

PFAS compounds have been used in manufacturing to make carpets, clothing, furniture fabrics, packaging for food and other products resistant to water, grease or stains.

Starting in the 1970s, the Department of Defense used firefighting foam containing two well-known PFAS compounds — PFOS and sometimes PFOA — for emergency response and training. Airports use the same foam to fight jet-fuel fires. 

Health officials have said the continued exposure to certain PFAS chemicals in drinking water could harm human health. Studies link exposure to developmental effects on fetuses, cancer and effects on liver and immunity function, among other issues. 

The EPA has not issued legally enforceable standards for PFAS in drinking water, which Isaacs has said would be a helpful tool for "holding responsible parties responsible."

Grevatt told a Senate hearing last week that that the agency is not looking at revising its 70 ppt advisory level, despite a Health and Human Services' assessment earlier this year that PFAS can cause risks to human health at lower levels than the 70 ppt. 

EPA has said will consider designating the the well-known PFAS compounds PFOA and PFOS as “hazardous substances" under the Superfund statute, and it's developing  groundwater cleanup recommendations for certain PFAS-contaminated sites. 

mburke@detroitnews.com

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