Michigan’s first PFAS rules for drinking water move forward

By: - February 27, 2020 9:33 pm

A state environmental rulemaking panel voted Thursday afternoon to approve draft rules for setting limits on toxic contaminants known as PFAS in Michigan’s drinking water.

The rules now head to a panel of state lawmakers for final consideration. If they are passed, Michigan will go from having no rules at all on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water to having the strictest limits in the nation.

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The Environmental Rules Review Committee (ERRC), created in 2018 to oversee all rulemaking within Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), had been considering a statewide drinking water standard for PFAS contamination for many months.

The process had slowed down in the fall – and seemed close to another delay on Thursday – but after more than two hours of discussion, 10 of the 12 ERRC voted to move the draft rules forward. 

The remaining two members, Grant Trigger from West Bloomfield and Daniel Frakes from St. Clair Shores, voted to abstain.

Eric Oswald, director of EGLE’s Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division, said the department is “very happy” with Thursday’s decision.

“We’ve done a very thorough process, although it was fairly quick. And it’s the first time the state of Michigan has established an MCL [maximum contamination level]. … I think we’ve got a good rule set to go forward,” Oswald said after the meeting.

The seven specific PFAS compounds and their recommended maximum contamination levels for drinking water are: PFNA (6 parts per trillion), PFOA (8 ppt), PFHxA (400,000 ppt), PFOS (16 ppt), PFHxS (51 ppt), PFBS (420 ppt) and GenX (370 ppt).

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“There are other states that have MCLs for some of these PFAS compounds. We’re the first state that will have an MCL for seven … [and] we’re the first state that’s establishing an MCL for Gen X compound,” Oswald said.

Oswald noted that on the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have a drinking water MCL in place for PFAS.

Earlier on Thursday, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) criticized President Donald Trump’s U.S. EPA chief for failing to set a national drinking water standard for PFAS contamination. Dingell said she had been promised that standard since she took office five years ago.

“In a normal process of things, it’s EPA that sets these MCLs,” Oswald said. “We then take their MCLs and either implement them or do something more strict. But the process is kind of broken. The EPA hasn’t set an MCL in a very long time.”

Oswald added that the EPA has been working on setting one, but it has been a very slow process that will likely take several more years. Michigan citizens are concerned about these chemicals in public drinking water now, he said, and there is no time left to wait.

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“It’s an interesting point that the states are now taking on a role that is traditionally reserved for the EPA,” Oswald said.

EGLE presented the draft rules in October to the ERRC, which eventually voted to move forward with a public hearing process in November. The public comment period for the draft rules was open from mid-December to the last day of January at midnight, during which the department received 3,334 individual comments.

More than 75% of those urged the committee to adopt the rules; only 16 comments expressed outright opposition to them.

Before the vote, EGLE officials assuaged some of the concerns expressed in those comments and emphasized that the department wants Michigan to be a national leader in protecting residents from the harms of PFAS.

The approved draft rules will now make their way to the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rulemaking (JCAR). If JCAR approves the rules, they could be in place as early as April.

“[Gov. Gretchen] Whitmer has made clean drinking water for all Michiganders a top priority in this administration and EGLE would like to thank the members of the ERRC for moving these important drinking water standards forward,” EGLE Director Liesl Clark said Thursday in a statement. “The ERRC represents both environmental and business stakeholders and today’s vote shows there is broad support for rules that protect Michiganders from contaminants in their drinking water.”

The draft rules also have support from a number of environmental groups, including the Ecology Center, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Michigan Environmental Council, FLOW (For the Love of Water), Huron River Watershed Council, Environment Michigan, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council and Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.