State testing: Two Michigan sites exceed federal limit on PFAS contaminants

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
At the intersection of Parchment's Travis and North 20th street, a hydrant flushes water from the system into a creekbed.

Two water systems out of nearly 1,600 tested across Michigan had levels of toxic PFAS chemicals higher than a federal health advisory level, state officials said Monday.

Only the city of Parchment and an elementary school near Grand Haven tested higher than 70 parts per trillion for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS. The state spent $1.7 million to test more than 1,590 public water systems.

PFAS are a class of chemicals long used in firefighting foam, tanneries, metal platers, Scotchgard and Teflon. They have been linked to health risks such as thyroid disease, increased cholesterol levels, and kidney and testicular cancers.

About 90 percent of the sampled systems found no detection of PFAS. Low levels of PFAS below 10 parts per trillion were found in seven percent of the systems and facilities tested, while levels between 10 and 70 parts per trillion were detected in three percent of the systems, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Among those tested were 1,114 public water systems, 461 schools operating on wells and 17 tribal systems.

Parchment and Robinson Elementary School near Grand Haven exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's standard of 70 ppt, according to the testing done by the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team.

The study was started under the Snyder administration as Michigan grapples with more than 40 PFAS sites.

“This first-in-the-nation study of all public water systems in the state has resulted in 3,000 people in Parchment and an additional 300 students and teachers at Robinson Elementary being protected from high levels of previously unknown PFAS contamination in their water supply,” DEQ Director Liesl Clark said in a statement.

Last year, Parchment and some nearby areas were found to have high levels of PFAS in the water system from chemicals used in a paper mill that ended up in a landfill. Parchment residents were given bottled water for more than month before Parchment was connected to Kalamazoo's water system in August 2018.

Robinson Elementary School is using bottled water and plans to install a carbon filtration system later this year, state officials said.

MPART also is paying for quarterly monitoring this year of municipal systems, schools and day cares with total PFAS levels of 10 ppt or higher, Clark said, which covers 35 municipal systems, 19 schools and eight day care facilities.

Later Monday, the DEQ said Steve Sliver will be the new executive director of of MPART. Sliver was DEQ's senior representative on the PFAS response team and is the former assistant director of DEQ’s Waste Management and Radiological Protection Division. 

The state department also will take initial samples of 12 Head Start programs that were closed for the winter and three community water systems that could not be scheduled last year. 

“Protecting the public remains our top priority,” Clark said. “MPART will continue to work with communities with detections of PFAS in their water to help them investigate and take action to drive down exposure levels.”

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