Statewide study: 10% of Michigan public water systems have PFAS

By: - August 19, 2019 2:28 pm

Treated water from the PFAS plume underneath the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base flows into Van Etten Creek, where a “do not eat fish” advisory has been in place since 2012 | Michael Gerstein

The Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) published the results of the first statewide study of toxic PFAS (or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) in drinking water last week, after testing more than 1,700 water supplies across the state.

PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” and are found in food packaging, cookware, firefighting foam and more.

According to the report, about one in ten of Michigan’s public water systems contain some level of PFAS. Of that 10%, 7% showed levels lower than 10 parts per trillion (ppt), which is far below the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s current advisory level of 70 ppt. 

Two sites in Michigan have levels exceeding 70 ppt, as the state disclosed earlier this year.

Report: Michigan has most PFAS sites in the nation

“This first-in-the-nation study of all public water systems in the state resulted in 3,500 people in Parchment and Robinson Township being protected from high levels of previously unknown PFAS contamination in their drinking water last year,” MPART Executive Director Steve Sliver said in a statement. “We believe the data we’ve collected will be useful as EGLE moves forward with the development of drinking water standards.”

Both officeholders and experts, alike, have said the federal advisory level of 70 ppt is too high. In June, the state recommended a series of enforceable limits as low as 8 ppt. Michigan members of Congress have introduced several efforts to crack down on the chemicals at the federal level.

The study was the first statewide PFAS evaluation effort in the country. Earlier this year, Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) spokesman Scott Dean told the Advance that “Michigan is well ahead of virtually every state in the country. … [State officials] have a much better handle on the impact of PFAS on drinking water.”

Report: Michigan has most PFAS sites in the nation

The state tested systems that supply almost 8 million of the state’s 10 million residents with water, and says it’s now conducting additional tests in areas with high levels of PFAS. The state currently tests sites that exceed the 10 ppt threshold on a quarterly basis.

Michigan League for Conservation Voters Deputy Director Bob Allison said testing is a “necessary first step” in addressing PFAS pollution, “but there is much more to be done to ensure communities across Michigan have safe drinking water.” The group called on lawmakers to pass a budget that “adequately funds protecting our drinking water from toxic contaminants.

“It is time for the very polluters responsible for this contamination to be held financially responsible for this work, as well,” Allison continued. “Taxpayers should not be on the hook for the millions of dollars spent testing and cleaning up PFAS contamination when we often know the direct source of the pollution.”

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Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson

Derek Robertson is a former reporter for the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.