Lansing — State officials expect to have new enforceable drinking water standards in place a year from now to address the ubiquitous chemical contaminant PFAS that has caused concern in many Michigan communities.

The Michigan PFAS Action Response Team laid out a timeline Thursday for developing the new standards by April 2020, a goal that would likely make Michigan the second state after New Jersey to adopt its own PFAS drinking water rules.

The meeting came less than a week after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer directed the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to develop statewide standards that would pre-empt long awaited federal drinking water standards for the class of “forever chemicals.”

"It will be happening on a fairly aggressive timeline," Michigan DEQ Director Liesl Clark said at Thursday's meeting in Lansing.

Though the time frame is tight, the state’s eight months of community water supply testing has prepared it to meet the April 2020 deadline for developing a new maximum contaminant level, said MPART Executive Director Steve Sliver said.

“We already have a good way to gauge what the impacts of setting standards will be here in Michigan on our public supplies,” he said.

Per- and polyfluoralkyl substances were long used to create non-stick surfaces such as those found in Scotchgard, Teflon, food wrappers and firefighting foam. The chemicals have been associated with health risks such as thyroid disease, increased cholesterol levels, and kidney and testicular cancers.

In its eight-month effort last year to test community water supplies for the chemical, Michigan used the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion to determine elevated risks in drinking water. But there have been calls for the federal government or state to develop maximum contaminant levels that can be more easily enforced and are less permissive than the EPA's 70 ppt.

To that end, Whitmer on Friday ordered MPART to develop new maximum contaminant levels for the state, rather than “wait for the Trump administration to act.”

The new level will give the state a standard that is likely lower than the EPA’s health advisory level and rules under which the state can more readily enforce compliance, Sliver said. While the level will apply only to public water supplies, the quarter of state residents on private drinking water supplies will be protected by the state’s existing ground water standards as well as filter and health recommendations from Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.  

“They’re just under a different structure, but they’re not forgotten,” Sliver said of those using private drinking water sources.

Officials laid out a clear timeline to comply with the governor's order.

An advisory work group, made up of four to five experts who will likely be named by next week, will have until July 1 to review the existing science and develop health-based values for as many PFAS compounds as possible.

From July 1 through Oct. 1, a separate group of stakeholders will review the health-based values to form the maximum contaminant levels and propose how those levels will be implemented into the state regulatory structure for community water supplies.

Between Oct. 1 and the rules' finalization on April 1, 2020, the proposed standards will be subject to public input as well as reviews by the Office of Regulatory Reform and the newly formed Environment Rules Review Committee, a controversial panel created by the GOP-led Legislature last year that is under review by Attorney General Dana Nessel.

The scientific advisory work group will be comprised of four to five experts in toxicology, epidemiology and risk assessment and is expected to review a variety of science to come up with a final number, said Kory Groetsch, director of the environmental health division at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“What we need from them is an actual number for each PFAS chemical they feel there is sufficient information to recommend a health-based number,” Groetsch said. “We need that in writing and we need it with their logic.”  

To develop the new level, the state will consider different factors such as body weight, water intake, other possible sources of contamination and economic considerations, said Dr. Jennifer Gray of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The factors the science advisory work group considers will influence the levels chosen, Gray said.

Existing screening levels across the country have vast differences because of the factors chosen to develop the new levels — from Michigan’s drinking water PFOA screening level of 9 ppt to New Jersey’s 14 ppt to the EPA’s 70 ppt, she noted. A screening level differs from a maximum contaminant level because it cannot be as easily enforced as the maximum level.

In its research, MPART also will look at what impacts a new maximum contaminant level could have on the cost and effectiveness of water treatments, the proper disposal of filtered PFAS, water analysis and monitoring, lab certification, and how quickly sites are required to comply with the new rules.

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