In busy lame duck, PFAS legislation a no show
Lansing — The Legislature will not consider legislation that would change the drinking water safety threshold for widespread chemical contaminants that have been a priority for Gov. Rick Snyder for the past year.
Several state agency leaders testified during an informational hearing Wednesday in the House Natural Resources Committee about their work to understand and address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The committee took no action and allowed few questions of the experts testifying.
“We’ll have future hearings with the new administration, that I can tell you right now,” said Rep. Gary Howell, the Republican chairman of the committee.
Since Snyder created the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team nearly a year ago, the threat of the chemical contaminant once used widely in Scotchgard, Teflon and firefighting foam has become clearer. The state this year has tested community and school water supplies, addressed elevated PFAS levels at a Parchment water supply and a Grand Haven elementary school, and issued do-not-eat orders for fish and deer in some areas of the state.
The class of chemicals is linked to some health effects, including cancer and immune system problems, but the links still are those of association, not causation, said Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s top medical officer.
“This is very similar to what we’ve seen in tobacco and how for decades we knew there was an association of cancer with tobacco smoke,” Wells testified Wednesday. “Pretty soon the associations get so strong, they are so robust, that you cannot deny them.”
House Republicans’ inaction on a legislative fix was noted by Democratic Rep. Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids, who introduced a bill more than a year ago that would lower the state’s drinking water advisory threshold from 70 parts per trillion to 5 parts per trillion.
The state has held off on adopting a new standard for drinking water health advisory levels as it awaits either new guidelines from the federal government or recommendations from the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team’s science advisory panel. The panel is expected to recommend a new level at the end of the year.
A Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesman has said 22 of 50 states have any PFAS standards and only four have a threshold lower than Michigan’s.
Even if the advisory level were set at 5 parts per trillion, it is doubtful the technology exists that could treat water at that minute a level, Alan Robertson, executive director of the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators, told a roundtable discussion with Environmental Protection Agency officials in September.
The Legislature has taken up more than 80 bills a day in committee, but has yet to take up PFAS legislation, Brinks noted in a statement.
“Instead of spending the last month of session cutting wages, watering down benefits for working families, preempting local control, and weakening the authority of the incoming Democratic administration, Republicans should be focusing on the things that improve the quality of life for every Michigander, and that starts with clean, safe drinking water,” Brinks said.
Wednesday’s hearing helped to create a base level of knowledge among committee members, Howell said, adding that he wanted to take a deliberate approach to address the issue.
“I wouldn’t even think about adopting a standard until I knew enough,” he said. “You could adopt a standard that’s too high or too low. We don’t know. We need the scientific basis. We need the studies done so we can pick an appropriate level.”
Although legislative action is not planned before the end of the year, there is a significant supplemental appropriation of money being proposed that would continue the state’s effort to understand and address PFAS, Howell said. Snyder has asked the Legislature for about $43 million in supplemental spending on PFAS.