“LANSING, MI — Robert Delaney took his concerns about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, to state environmental leaders more than six years ago in a prophetic report that called for decisive action on a looming health crisis.
His alarm bell was largely ignored.
Delaney, a Superfund section specialist and 30-plus year employee at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, delivered the 93-page report in August 2012 to a former DEQ director, warning that shockingly high PFAS levels in fish and documented pollution in the Great Lakes, rivers and wildlife ‘indicate a significant exposure to Michigan citizens and ecosystems.’
Many other PFAS sites were waiting to be discovered, he wrote.
‘Communities with fire training facilities, other Department of Defense (DOD) bases, metal platers, other major airports, major transportation corridors, and other industrialized areas all could have extensive contamination by (PFAS),’ Delaney wrote.
Delaney’s warning came with a plan that called for a multi-agency response team, state-funded dosage response studies, sampling and mapping blood serum levels around the state, checking food, drinking water supplies and water bodies for contamination and developing a statewide in-home carbon filtration program ‘to get as many people off impacted water as possible.’
Today, nearly six years after Delaney’s warning about the dangers and potential ubiquity of PFAS, his predictions are coming true. Numerous sites around Michigan have known PFAS plumes and the list keeps growing as testing and attention escalates. So far, the number is 31 and counting across 15 communities, where neighbors are questioning whether contaminated water is to blame for chronic diseases.
Of the 15 recommendations in Delaney’s report, only the proposal for statewide surface water sampling was acted upon before last fall, according to the DEQ. The agency said in a response to MLive questions that other suggested actions were either another agency’s responsibility or beyond the DEQ’s authority, technical abilities or regulatory purview.
Earlier this year, the DEQ began testing all public water systems and schools on well water for PFAS as part of a comprehensive effort coordinated under the banner of MPART, the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team created by Gov. Rick Snyder in November.
Under MPART, the state is now looking for PFAS in plating operations, wastewater plants, old landfills, airports, fire departments, refineries, apparel manufacturers and other sites identified by Delaney six years ago as potential PFAS sources…
‘We could be much farther down the road,’ said Anthony Spaniola, a Troy attorney who owns a cottage on Van Etten Lake in Oscoda, where toxic PFAS foam now piles on the shoreline. ‘We were warned. We should have been doing this a long time ago.’
Delaney started sampling for PFAS at Wurtsmith Air Force Base in 2010 after learning about the troubling compounds, then known as perflourinated chemicals, or PFCs, at a conference on emerging contaminants. His discovery of Michigan’s first known PFAS site source sparked a long-term effort to raise awareness about the contaminants inside and outside of state government — sometimes in ways that laid early groundwork for now-significant discoveries.
Emails obtained by MLive through the Freedom of Information Act show that, eight years ago, Delaney was raising questions about PFAS that are still being debated today among toxicologists and cleanup specialists, and was communicating with other state agencies and raising concerns about possible contamination in the food supply.
In a November 2010 email to former division chief Lynelle Marof, Delaney wrote that PFOS is likely to be a “very important and problematic contaminant” in Michigan, noting studies showing links between exposure and neurological problems in animals…
‘No one is certain if the chemicals that are replacing these compounds are more or less toxic,’ Delaney wrote.
Michigan should track PFAS research, he wrote…
Following an October 2010 presentation on PFAS to the EPA, Department of Defense and an interstate regulatory group, Delaney wrote that his talk was ‘well received, if you consider stunned silence a good reception.’ ”
Read the full article by Garret Ellison