“ROCKFORD, MI — Testing data disclosed by the Department of Environmental Quality shows that more than 1.5 million people in Michigan have unwittingly been drinking municipal water with some level of contamination by toxic chemicals called PFAS.

The list of systems with known PFAS levels include major systems that draw water from the Great Lakes like SaginawGrand Rapids and Wyoming, as well as groundwater systems like Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, which draws primarily from the Huron River.

Almost all systems with a detection of the so-called ‘forever chemicals’ found them below a safety threshold set by the federal government. But the sheer scope of contamination is highlighting concerns about the adequacy of that level and prompting calls for rigid controls on the chemicals, which are not regulated in Michigan public drinking water systems.

‘The state legislature needs to move swiftly and pass a scientifically backed enforceable drinking water standard,’ said Lisa Wozniak, director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, during a press event Wednesday, Aug. 22, at North Rockford Middle School.

‘We need to protect Michiganders and our children right now.’

Homeowners with drinking water polluted by PFAS from Wolverine World Wide tannery waste appeared alongside activists, state lawmakers and Rockford school leaders this week to seek movement on a bill that would establish a strict PFAS standard in Michigan.

State Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, authored a bill in December that would set a statewide drinking water standard for PFAS at 5-ppt — the strictest such drinking water limit in the nation. The bill hasn’t moved from committee in seven months.

‘I call on my colleagues, as I have repeatedly over the past year, to move this legislation forward without delay. Without a safe enforceable drinking water standard, we cannot truly protect communities from PAFS contamination,’ Brinks said…

The gathering occurred during back-to-school season and at a critical juncture for the statewide PFAS testing effort at public water supplies and schools using private wells…

As of Aug. 16, the DEQ had collected samples from 892 of the state’s 1,841 public water systems and schools that operate their own wells. Not all test results have been released. Samples have taken roughly a month to turn around.

Municipal systems with PFAS detection serve about 1,546,000 Michiganders when their customer bases are added together. Armed with the new data, some utilities have taken steps to reduce exposure by taking wells offline. Others, like Plainfield Township near Grand Rapids, have installed filtration…

Gov. Rick Snyder’s office has struck a triumphant tone, declaring the state a ‘national leader’ in tackling PFAS due to the testing effort.

But the state has thus far resisted all calls for a state drinking water standard — permanent or interim — pointing instead at the Environmental Protection Agency, which Michigan officials say needs to establish national drinking water standard for PFAS.

Michigan reticence to make its own laws and, instead, adopt the EPA’s health advisory level of 70-ppt for the two chemicals PFOS and PFOA as an ‘action level’ used for prioritizing decisions about what contamination levels are ‘safe’ has prompted backlash from critics emboldened by a recent federal health report that undercuts the adequacy of EPA’s threshold.

In June, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issued draft risk assessments that suggest 70-ppt may be seven to ten times too high to adequately protect everyone who might consume certain PFAS compounds in water.

That report has put Michigan in an awkward position…

In official communications to water system managers and schools, the state’s ‘toolkit’ guidance for communicating with customers or parents says 70-ppt is ‘protective of everyone, especially pregnant women, young children, and the elderly.’

That literature was developed in May, but is still being used.

Despite that, ‘you can’t un-know the knowledge that ATSDR has provided us,’ said Eden Wells, the chief medical executive at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. ‘That is definitely a huge issue we factor-in when making an individual determination of risk.’ …

Guidance on how to address low levels — for both PFOS and PFOA as well as other PFAS compounds showing up in test results — would certainly be welcomed by schools and water utilities grappling with how to address PFAS in their system.

While high PFAS levels in Parchment have received the most attention, the testing program has turned up low to moderate levels in numerous other public water systems and school buildings — and most of northern Michigan and the U.P. are yet to be tested.

In Montcalm County, total PFAS in the water at Tri-County Junior High tested at 88-ppt. At the EightCAP Head Start Center near Belding, total PFAS tested at 182-ppt. In Oakland County, total PFAS in the water at Glengary Elementary School tested at 77-ppt.

Other schools have found lower levels. In Kent County, testing found 23-ppt total PFAS in the water at Alto Elementary. In Marshall, there’s 20-ppt total PFAS in the Calhoun Intermediate School District water.

Response has varied. The EightCAP Head Start center moved to bottled water even though testing didn’t find any PFOS or PFOA. Instead, results showed other PFAS compounds like PFHxA and PFBS — two chemicals that, while technically in the PFAS family, are nonetheless not addressed by the EPA advisory level, which is specific to PFOS and PFOA…

On the municipal water side, even very low detections of PFAS have caused water utility operators to shut down groundwater pumps.

In Kent County, the village of Sparta shut down a well after 2-ppt of PFBS was found in the system water. In Allegan County, the city of Plainwell shut down a backup well in April after a test showed 54-ppt in the treated drinking water serving about 3,300 customers. City leaders there say they plan to begin testing for PFAS annually.

In Kalamazoo County, the city of Portage shut down three wells against DEQ’s advice after finding total PFAS at 13-ppt in treated water serving 46,000 people.

In Oakland County, the Independence Township water system shut down a pumping station after finding 10-ppt total PFAS in the treated water going to about 11,700 customers. David McKee, township public works director, said taking the well offline won’t affect system capacity and was largely a move to ‘make the community feel safe.’

Independence Township is looking into granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration, which is one of only a few methods — others being reverse osmosis and anion exchange — to remove PFAS from water. Plainfield Township installed GAC filtration this year after mounting public pressure from residents concerned about water tainted by Wolverine PFAS dumps.

Plainfield’s experience was watched closely by other municipal systems, which saw that assurances about PFAS levels being below the EPA threshold did little to assuage public concern about the safety of the drinking water. With help from a $750,000 DEQ grant, Plainfield installed filtration that has brought levels to non-detect.

‘Reading what was happening in Plainfield Township and knowing the concern — obviously water quality is of upmost concern to the community — we didn’t wait for the state to test,’ said Plainwell city manager Erik Wilson. ‘We wanted to be as proactive as possible.’

Many of the PFAS detections thus far have been in small systems serving residential developments. About 17 such community systems detected PFAS, with the two highest readings in Kent County: the Whispering Pines trailer park off Alpine Avenue NW with 64-ppt total PFAS in its 125-customer supply, and the Spring Valley Mobile Home Park in Plainfield Township near Boulder Creek Golf Course, with 43-ppt total PFAS in its 172-customer supply.

To date, only the Parchment municipal supply has come back above 70-ppt, but other public systems have results at or approaching that threshold for total PFAS.

The Kalamazoo water system, which serves about 196,000 customers, had total PFAS readings in treated water from tests on June 15 that showed 72-ppt and 69-ppt. After Parchment, Kalamazoo’s levels are the highest thus far for total PFAS in statewide testing.”

Read the full article by Garret Ellison