“Michigan is learning about its PFAS environmental contamination, discovering how far it reaches and how many residents it affects. It’s a complicated problem. The chemicals have been used in household products and for safety efforts, and they’re found across the globe.
But as officials target limiting human exposure, they’re also looking at a set of solutions: more money, site work and regulations. Scientists and others involved with identified sites in the state say increased transparency and education from government would help, as well.
There’s consensus that few solutions will be easy or cheap. That’s particularly true as Michigan spends much of 2018 testing for potential contamination in public water systems, private wells, operating and closed industrial sites, military installations and schools, among other locations.
At risk: The drinking water for 9 million Michigan residents who depend on the government to identify public health risks and initiate protection for people and the environment…
MLive.com talked to a number of experts and people affected by PFAS. Here are eight solutions that could make a difference as Michigan pursues a PFAS solution, based on what they said:
The EPA needs to set nationwide standards.
In order to force polluters to clean up contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency classifies what contaminants are legally considered ‘hazardous substances’ and determines how much, if any, of that contamination can be left in the groundwater or soil…
The only federal guideline is a non-enforceable “health advisory level” of PFOS and PFOA in drinking water of 70 parts-per-trillion (ppt). The benchmark is essentially a strong suggestion. Polluters can ignore it if they want to. It doesn’t set any actual cleanup standards that state and federal officials can use in court.
In the vacuum of federal standards, some states have begun to develop their own. Michigan established enforceable standards that mirror the EPA advisory level for PFOS and PFOA in groundwater used fordrinking water. The standard was set on January 10, when the state also sued Wolverine World Wide in federal court over cleanup of 78 private wells in Kent County. PFAS chemicals also have been found above 70-ppt in 14 wells near Grayling and one well near Wurtsmith…
Concern for public health should guide regulation.
There are 3,000 variants of PFAS chemicals, with just six getting attention for their documented dangers. So far, EPA tests can detect about 30 of them – and some health experts urge the EPA to add them to their list.
It’s just one example of how full PFAS dangers remain undefined, but steps to protect the public can be taken until more research is done…
Scientists say they’re moving into more advanced realms of PFAS study, so that the health effects on humans will be better understood. At the same time, they’re advancing clean-up and detection technology…
Among recommendations presented by Erik D. Larson at the EPA’s recent leadership summit: banning new uses for PFAS; setting guidelines for managing hazardous waste containing PFAS; and banning the use of 19 PFAS chemicals now allowed contact with food.
Michigan needs a consumer-facing education plan.
The state launched MPART in November 2017 creating a team comprising 10 different departments in state government to responding to PFAS contamination. The initiative runs a website with details on each site in the state that’s been identified as contaminated and provides regular updates via press releases…
The next step for the state is to generate a broader education system for all of its residents, experts said. Some state residents may end up within a PFAS zone; some may consider moving to one without knowing its history. And all residents need exposure to the state’s information, experts said Some of that may be as basic as posting more signs: one example would be on the waterways where high levels of PFAS foam can be found, urges some people in Oscoda…
People affected by PFAS need stronger connections.
‘I worry about every community group that’s going to be going through the same thing that we are,’ said Cathy Wusterbarth.
As leader of Need Our Water, a community action group formed in 2017 in Oscoda, Wusterbarth had to become a fast expert on a complex topic. The geography of the closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base is familiar; she grew up lifeguarding in Van Etten Lake.
Today, however, her view of both comes through a lens of PFAS pollution. She’s finding studies, coordinating meetings, initiating conversations as she discovers peers in Plainfield Township near Grand Rapids and Pease, New Hampshire. It’s a single focus for her community: She wants the contamination to end. And she’s spending what feels like endless hours of her time strategizing on how residents can best respond to the threat.
But, she asks, why should it be this hard for each community? It took time to feel like she had a voice with MPART, and she wants more resident input programmed into that effort.
She also wants each group to connect, allowing them to share resources and speak with a united voice. Their local elected officials need to play a part in that, too…
The federal government must prioritize contamination cleanup.
That mostly means money. Much about Department of Defense’s approach to PFAS contamination is tied to federal funding. That’s a complex process, and one that takes place amid much political posturing every year.
But the role of the federal government is directly tied to the problem: In many cases, it’s the polluter. The scope of its responsibility is broad and likely to expand beyond nine military sites in the state…
Michigan needs to define the impact of PFAS on the environment.
Much of the human health focus is on drinking water, which is an exposure path considered among the most alarming for people.
But when it gets into the water, the effects go beyond people. Chemical-laden fish can be found on ‘do not eat’ advisories across the state, with PFAS listed as the primary concern for a total of 59 mentions in Michigan water ways – most in Southeast Lower Michigan.
The fish live in that water. Deer and other wildlife drink it. Birds do, too. So what does that mean to a hunter?…
Communities with PFAS contamination need economic support.
Michigan’s MPART organization is tackling PFAS contamination on multiple fronts, and it’s gaining recognition for leadership among states as it considers science, human health and regulation.
But one consideration hasn’t made it onto the list yet: It’s also an economic issue for the communities affected.
Severe PFAS contamination raises questions about property values. It could taint a region’s natural resources, which is deadly for tourism. Business and personal investment may drop. How do Michigan’s already-struggling smaller towns add jobs amid an escalating public health scare?”
Read the full article by Paula Gardener and Garret Ellison