Read full article by Paula Gardner (MLive)

“Michigan is surrounded by water. It has an industrial heritage. And its documented PFAS contamination is related to both.

Yet measuring chemical risks leaves a major question unanswered: How much PFAS is in the blood of the average Michigan resident?

A $4 million federal grant will let the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services figure that out.

It’s a two-part effort that will play out over five years.

The first initiative, called the Michigan Chemical Exposure Monitoring program (MiChEM), will indicate the human blood levels of PFAS, or per- and poly-fluroalkyl substances, among state residents. That will be done through biomonitoring, which the state describes as the measurement of environmental chemicals in body tissues or fluids, such as blood or urine, to determine the amount of chemical that actually enters the body…

‘We just don’t understand what the general population’s exposure in the state of Michigan is,’ said Matt Geiger, chemistry and toxicology division director at the MDHHS State Public Health Lab and one of the principal investigators on the grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention.

‘Michigan adults may be exposed to environmental chemicals in different ways than the rest of the U.S. population.’

A second portion of the grant will be used for more targeted testing: Checking firefighters for how much PFAS is in their blood.

The effort is important for the first-responders, said Mark Docherty, a president of the Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union. The union has been watching efforts to make PFAS a class of chemicals, and also calls to ban the chemicals in fire-fighting foam and on turnout gear.

‘PFAS has been in foam and our gear for years and years,’ he said. ‘To ban it could remove the protective properties in our gear. So we want to see if PFAS is harming us or not’…

All of the contaminants that will be studied with the new grant have been found in the state, and some targeted biomonitoring has taken place. That includes PCB testing over time near St. Louis, where a chemical mixup in 1974 resulted in state-wide consumption of the chemical in milk. In Northern Kent County, health officials are doing PFAS tests on residents to determine exposure there after Wolverine World Wide industrial waste contaminated drinking water over an estimated 25-square-mile area.

And in Parchment, the city’s drinking water system was shut down in 2018 after municipal wells were found with PFAS concentrations over 10 times higher than the federal lifetime advisory limit…

Eventually, the data collected in the new biomonitoring study will be used to assess and reduce exposures, said Lynn Sutfin, MDHHS spokesperson. Results also could guide future state policy and national initiatives.

PFAS contamination continues to be discovered in Michigan as state investigators target testing of likely routes to human consumption and the environment: Drinking water. Industrial discharges. Landfill leachate. Fire-fighting foam, known as AFFF. Fish from contaminated lakes and rivers.

Millions have been spent by state and local governments on the efforts, as officials also undertake new regulatory measures. Soon, the state likely will approve a maximum contaminant level for PFAS in drinking water that could include seven types of the chemicals, including PFOA, PFOS and GenX…

While many people in Michigan are drinking water that’s been tested for PFAS and know they face little to no risk, firefighters continue to work with the chemicals. They’re just one type of carcinogen that they have to worry about.

‘We get cancer a lot,’ said Docherty. ‘There’s a risk-benefit thing for us.’

According to the MDHHS proposal, firefighters form ‘a subpopulation for which there is evidence of occupational PFAS exposure exceeding national averages.’

Studying the levels of the chemicals in firefighters’ blood will ‘give them a better idea of what they’ve been exposed to,’ Geiger said…

The CDC grants are awarded every five years. This year’s cycle attracted 17 applicants, and five other states received grants: Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York. Of them, New York and New Jersey also will be gathering statewide PFAS data.”