“FLINT, MI — Testing of the Flint River showed rising levels of PFAS contamination before it was used as the city’s water source four years ago.
But while that information was shared within state government in a report authored by a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services division director, it may have never been shared with decision-makers in city government.
The report — ‘Measuring Perfluorinated Compounds in Michigan Surface Waters and Fish’ — showed that two samples from the river — both taken downstream, north of Flint — had the second- and third-highest concentrations of PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — in testing at 13 separate sites in the state in 2011 and 2013…
It’s not clear whether the report’s principal investigator, former DHHS Division Director Linda Dykema, shared information about the Flint River contaminants with key city and state decision-makers who were defending the safety of the city’s water at the time the report was released without fanfare in May 2015.
DHHS spokeswoman Angela Minicuci said the report was shared with three other state agencies — the Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development — as well as EPA.
But Minicuci said can’t say whether the information ever made its way to locally elected officials or state-appointed emergency managers in Flint City Hall who were in a position to shift policy on the city’s water source.
‘I’m not aware of it being shared with the city, as that’s not how we would utilize a grant such as this,’ Minicuci said in an email to MLive-The Flint Journal. ‘We completed this report to fulfill a grant reporting requirement, and then used the data we gathered from this grant to update the Eat Safe Fish guidelines.’
The report was funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an Obama-era plan for dealing with water pollution threats and a program that’s been targeted for massive cuts by President Donald Trump.
Former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said he does not remember ever having been told of PFAS issues before ceremonially pushing the button to change the city’s water source to the Flint River in April 2014…
The report was released roughly a year after the switch to the river, a change that ended in October 2015 — shortly before state and federal recognition of the Flint water crisis.
But the document included data collected by the DEQ from the river and other water bodies in the state between 2011 and 2013.
Through a state-appointed attorney, Dykema, who retired in 2016, declined to comment on the report or who she shared it with.
Like other state government employees, her legal expenses tied to the water crisis are being paid by taxpayers…
Dykema’s report lists her as the principal investigator, and two water samples collected from the Flint River — at M-13 in Saginaw County and in the Montrose area in Genesee County — are included in it.
The Flint River samples registered concentrations of PFAS at 87.1 and 72.1 parts per trillion — above the current federal advisory threshold for drinking water of 70 ppt and more than six times higher than the state’s standard for surface water quality.
Before 2016, EPA’s lifetime health advisory was higher –400 ppt for PFOA and 200 ppt PFOS…
‘This (level in the Flint River) is above the level we would be concerned about,’ said Tasha Stoiber, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that describes its purpose as protecting human health and the environment.
Those water sample results ‘should have raised a red flag under Michigan Rule 57 surface water protection standards for source waters for nondrinking (12 ng/L) and drinking water (11 ng/L), an enforceable standard for lakes and rivers,’ Stoiber wrote in an email to MLive.
Rule 57 standards were developed by the DEQ starting in 2011.
When the agency identifies elevated surface water concentrations of PFAS — and if the state has no data for fish from the water source — it’s targeted for sampling to determine if a fish consumption advisory is needed.
‘We’ll also decide what, if any, further investigation is needed to determine sources of the contamination,’ said Joseph Bohr, aquatic biologist in the DEQ’s Water Resource Division.
That’s happened at the Flint River since the Dykema report was issued.
The state this year carried out testing at sites around Gilkey Creek, a tributary to the river downstream of the city’s former water intake, in an effort to identify potential sources of PFAS and identified two confirmed sites of contamination — the creek and a landfill on Coldwater Road…
Flint tested for six PFAS chemicals in drinking water from 2013 until 2015, according to EWG.
But while the contaminants were not detected in finished water, the chemicals could have still been making it into the city’s water due to the way the test results were reported.
During that period of testing through the EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Program, water systems reported any reading of less than 20 ppt for PFOA and 40 ppt for PFOS as zero, Stoiber said.
Flint’s water plant produced water with elevated levels of regulated contaminants like lead and total trihalomethanes during the 17 months it treated river water.”
Read the full article by Ron Fonger