PFAS CONTAMINATION

Water flows from the regular faucet, left, and the water filter faucet installed at the kitchen sink of a Grawn home after PFAS contamination was discovered in wells in a neighborhood near an historic pollution site.

TRAVERSE CITY — State officials took another step toward enforceable regulations for PFAS levels in public drinking water.

The Michigan PFAS Action Response Team unanimously voted Friday to draft rules founded on the health-based values recommended by a science advisory work group nearly three months ago. It’s the latest step toward state standards Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered be developed rather than await federal rules.

Liesl Clark, director of the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, said the suggested values on the table are “grounded in science.”

PFAS is an acronym for a family of man-made per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, now considered a worldwide emerging contaminant after decades of common use of the substances in a vast variety of products, including in military, industrial and manufacturing processes.

Eric Oswald, director of EGLE’s drinking water and environmental health division, said state officials are on schedule to meet Whitmer’s Oct. 1 deadline for draft regulations.

The proposed rules outline how public water supply compliance will be based on annual average PFAS levels based on quarterly sampling, and there is a public notice requirement for failures, Oswald said.

Additionally, he said the proposed rules would not apply to private residential water wells, nor to locations that don’t provide long-term water supplies such as small businesses, campgrounds, highway rest areas and the like.

Oswald said EGLE officials will present the draft PFAS drinking water regulations to the agency’s Environmental Rules Review Committee on Oct. 3 and the members of that group are scheduled to vote Oct. 31 about whether to sign off on the ongoing rule-making process so it can continue. Should that happen, he said public hearings will begin to be scheduled in November or December.

Steve Sliver, MPART’s executive director, said this whole process is unusual because normally Michigan officials adopt standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those are slow in coming.

Clark said EPA regulators are well aware that not only Michigan officials but those from other states also want to see federal standards set for PFAS levels in drinking water. But Michigan is moving forward anyway, she said.

The EPA established a non-binding advisory level of 70 parts per trillion for two of the thousands of chemicals, PFOA and PFOS. Other states set more stringent levels.

Minnesota, New Jersey and New York have lower established or proposed thresholds for PFOS at 15 ppt, 13 ppt and 10 ppt, respectively. But Michigan stands to have the lowest numbers for PFOA at 8 ppt and PFNA at 6 ppt, should those recommendation levels be finalized.

The recommended PFAS levels weren’t approved for continued rule-making without some dispute during Friday’s MPART meeting.

Anna Reade, staff scientist with the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, spoke about that organization’s recommendation that Michigan officials reconsider a treatment-based water standard for drinking water systems with detectable PFAS. Instead, it’s preferred a focus be placed on treatments that would affect broader numbers of PFAS chemicals, of which there are thousands.

“Regulating PFAS as a class is tremendously hard, but I think we are missing an opportunity to move the ball forward,” she said.

Reade said continued focus on individual PFAS chemicals leads to underestimates of the real effects occurring in human bodies. PFAS chemicals bioaccumulate in living organisms.

The NRDC scientist and another official from that group submitted to MPART a letter that made those arguments, also signed by two Sierra Club officials.

Liz Kirkwood, executive director of Traverse City-based nonprofit For Love of Water, said she agrees with officials from those environmental nonprofits about rules being needed for the entire class of PFAS chemicals.

“The health-based values the state derived through scientific work is important but doesn’t fully recognize class-based regulation and the cumulative effects of multiple PFAS chemicals over a lifetime of exposure,” she said.

Kirkwood said regulations based on class-wide standards would be ideal because otherwise officials will have to continually amend the rules. Also, she said since Michigan is on the forefront of identifying PFAS contamination sites, it might also want to be on the cutting edge of regulated drinking water limits for the emerging contaminant.

“We do not want to be the lowest common denominator. We want to set the bar high for other states to duplicate,” Kirkwood said.

More information about PFAS in Michigan and the state’s response is available at www.michigan.gov/pfasresponse online.

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