Read the full article by Beth LeBlanc and Melissa Nann Burke
“An emerging drinking-water contaminant that was once just a concern in Michigan communities near military bases is raising health and environmental concerns in other areas, including Metro Detroit.
Residents in five counties, including Oakland, Livingston and Wayne, were warned two weeks ago not to swallow foam on the Huron River due to the presence of certain perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS. The warning expanded an earlier do-not-eat advisory for fish from the river.
The Huron River joins 35 contamination sites across the state — a list that includes Lake St. Clair and the Clinton River in Macomb County, a small community water supply in Parchment, residential wells around a Rockford tannery in West Michigan, and marshes, rivers and lakes around military bases in Oscoda, Alpena and Grayling.
The state has responded aggressively to the man-made threat in recent months, and residents have noticed. But critics argue the response prior to 2016 was slowed by a lack of understanding of the chemicals’ widespread presence and dangerous health effects.
‘I’ll never drink city water again, any city water, any well water,’ said Cooper Township resident Steve VanDiver. ‘I’ve lost trust in the water system across the country.’…
Democratic lawmakers and environmentalists contend the state’s standards for contamination are too lenient and that Michigan should tighten restrictions instead of waiting on a federal determination.
State Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, introduced legislation last year to lower the health advisory level from 70 parts per trillion —advised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — to 5 parts per trillion. Her push was lauded by environmental groups but labeled impractical by some experts…
Health officials have said the continued exposure to certain PFAS chemicals in drinking water could harm human health. Studies link exposure to developmental effects on fetuses, cancer and effects on liver and immunity function, among other issues…
A fly-fishing enthusiast, Arnie Leriche retired to Oscoda near the AuSable River just as the state was confirming PFAS contamination at Wurtsmith in 2010.
A former environmental engineer for the EPA who helped manage the agency’s online contamination database, Leriche researched the area before buying a home in Oscoda and saw there were two contamination sites nearby.
But Leriche said he trusted state and federal regulators had it under control and when, a few years later, he started to see new signs warning against eating local fish, he again trusted government oversight.
By 2016, Leriche felt the state and U.S. Air Force were responding too slowly to the contamination.
‘I sort of had now the feeling that I put too much faith in my agency that I’d spent 38 years with and in the military,’ said Leriche, who testified before a U.S. Senate panel in late September about the need for a swifter federal response…
In late 2017, Gov. Rick Snyder created the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team to address the emerging crisis. Extra funding was set aside to test water supplies, assess them for PFAS contamination and develop cleanup plans.
In early 2018, the state adopted the federal health advisory level of 70 ppt and sued Wolverine Worldwide in federal court, despite its cooperation on PFAS contamination, in a bid to set deadlines for the company to complete cleanups…
In May, the state’s PFAS response team launched what it called the ‘most comprehensive statewide study of PFAS in water supplies,’ when it began testing 1,841 public water systems and schools operating their own well for the contaminants.
The roughly 11,300 sites where PFAS-containing products could have been used or disposed — such as fire stations, refineries, landfills and military bases — served as a road map for the state to develop a schedule for the $1.7 million survey. At the end of the testing, the state will have tested 75 percent of Michigan’s drinking water.
The testing netted a big offender in July, when the city of Parchment’s water supply tested at 1,587 parts per trillion of PFAS chemicals, far exceeding the 70 ppt threshold.
The communities were placed under a state of emergency, and officials warned residents not to drink the water or cook with it until residents were hooked up to the Kalamazoo water supply.
Steve VanDiver lives about a block over from his mother in Cooper Township, but both of their homes received water from the Parchment supply.
The state and city response was swift once the chemical was identified, VanDiver said, but the implications of long-term use of the water prior to the shutdown are worrisome.
His mother has lived in the same home since 1966. She switched from well water to city water years ago as area residents began to realize their wells may have fallen victim to decades of industrial waste in the area.
The realization that the city water also was contaminated intensified VanDiver’s frustration and his worries about the health impact on his mother after a half-century of drinking the area water. He attended a town hall meeting after the contamination was announced.
‘I had a big old sign that said: How long have you been poisoning my family?’ he said…
The state’s drinking water testing program may be missing a large chunk of potentially dangerous water supplies because of its reliance on the federal 70 ppt threshold, Democratic lawmakers argue.
In an early September press conference, Brinks criticized the Republican majority for not acting on legislation she introduced last year that would lower the PFAS public health advisory level from 70 ppt to 5 ppt. She has yet to get a hearing on the bill, though DEQ officials have said they are open to a lower threshold.
The new level should be based on sound science and preferably supported by federal officials, Dean said. He noted that 22 of 50 states have no PFAS standards at all, and only four have a threshold lower than Michigan’s. “