State Sen. Peter Lucido, R-District 8, speaks about ongoing water quality issues during a town hall meeting he co-sponsored with Rep. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, on Oct. 8.

State Sen. Peter Lucido, R-District 8, speaks about ongoing water quality issues during a town hall meeting he co-sponsored with Rep. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, on Oct. 8.

File photo by Julie Snyder


As PFAS testing and research continue, will those impacted even know?

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published March 5, 2019

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OAKLAND COUNTY — Back in June of 2018, the treated drinking water that serves two mobile home parks in northern Oakland County tested positive for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS.

One resident said she was never made aware of the test that detected two parts per trillion of the contaminant in water.

The management of the parks didn’t return requests for comment on the matter before press time.

But, is the management for those communities, or even the Michigan government, responsible for informing residents of the readings? After all, there’s no real standard for how much PFAS is too much yet, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

And that’s exactly the problem, if you ask state Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township. The current recommended cap on PFAS in Michigan is 70 ppt. But he said there’s no data available right now to suggest that anything below that mark is safe.

“We know very little, and we’re learning more all the time. The feds are trying to put a limit on what’s toxic for humans and how it gets in our system. I’ve heard 60 ppt can kill human life. So it’s all junk science. The jury’s still out.”

PFAS, man-made chemicals often used as fire suppressants in a number of products, can be found in anything from fast food wrappers to clothing, according to Lucido. And when it’s dissolved into water — whether it’s a surface body of water, groundwater or a treated water delivery system — the particles don’t break down over time. So families can be exposed to the contaminant at nearly every moment of the day, whether they’re eating, showering or getting dressed.

“Our (state) Legislature said we can’t wait for Washington to give us a number for (maximum contaminant levels). We need to figure it out now for ourselves so we can monitor our own situation,” Lucido said, explaining that funds were allocated last spring to open a PFAS testing lab on the west side of the state.

Trident Environmental, located in Holland, Michigan, tests water samples each day, looking for PFAS via liquid chromatography. Lyle Rawlings, a technical supervisor for Trident Environmental, said most of the samples he receives from around the state don’t exceed that 70 ppt mark.

“Our goal isn’t really to participate in research, though we do. We’re part of research projects with Michigan State University and Grand Valley State University in compiling reports from Michigan’s watersheds that might be helpful at some point. And we’re proud to be a part of that,” Rawlings said. “But out goal is to test samples and turn them around fast. We have the lowest pricing in the nation, and some of the fastest turnaround at about five to 10 days. We’re hearing it can take as long as six weeks in other places.”

Time and cost are important, he explained, because many Michiganders — particularly those a bit farther out from designated contamination areas, or who are operating on well water systems — likely need to test the water themselves. Trident offers complete PFAS water testing kits available for purchase to the public, in the event the MDEQ isn’t slated to collect a sample in their neck of the woods.

Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township is one of those designated spots where PFAS levels are expected to tick higher. Lucido said it makes sense, since the soldiers there often perform fire drills with aircraft at the location, and they need to extinguish the flames with massive amounts of fire suppression foam. That foam seeps into water systems and makes its way to us.

And there are numbers to prove it.

Since last year, the MDEQ has been working its way around the state, testing systems for PFAS to get an idea of where efforts should be focused. The chemicals haven’t been found in drinking water in C & G Newspapers’ coverage area as of yet, the closest positive drinking water tests coming from Waterford Township and Clarkston, with levels ranging from two to 36 ppt. One of the locations is the Oakland Schools Technical Campus Northwest.

However, groundwater and surface water, like local lakes and rivers, are another issue.

Lake St. Clair tested positive for PFAS, a common version of it known as perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS, last year near Mount Clemens. The Clinton River tested positive for PFAS upstream of the base near Moravian Drive.

PFOS was found in Davison groundwater — likely from a nearby landfill — and in Kent Lake, which spans several counties and municipalities and is part of the metroparks system in Oakland County. The PFAS contamination found in fish there was too high for human consumption last fall, the MDEQ said, and the lake’s tributaries span five counties in total, making fish from lakes and rivers throughout metro Detroit unsafe to eat. To date, that advisory has not been lifted.

PFAS have been found in the muscle tissue of deer around the state as well, with contaminant levels reaching higher than 500 ppt. The MDEQ issued a “do not eat” advisory for deer in affected areas, which are located largely in the Oscoda area surrounding Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

A detailed analysis of where deer and fish shouldn’t be hunted and consumed can be found on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ website, michigan.gov/mdhhs.

Lucido said he fears for Michigan’s hunting and fishing industries — a tourism draw worth billions for the state — if PFAS isn’t controlled so fish and game can be consumed without fear.

“It’s not just hospitality that would be hurt. What about the sales of rods and reels? All the stuff that goes with it,” he said.

So far, fishermen haven’t seemed too concerned with the contaminant advisories released in certain counties around the state in recent years, according to Erik Gaca, the author of the Michigan fishing blog Eternal Angler.

“Sorry to say, most fishermen, even hunters, are in denial about pollution, climate change, Lyme disease and what’s going on with prion disease,” Gaca said, noting that prion disease is an alleged emerging threat in the gaming community involving meat tainted with damaged proteins, causing neurodegenerative symptoms in humans.

“I do what I can to report on these things and try to bring discussion. But how many other YouTube fishermen talk about these things? Are these topics ever … discussed by the (Michigan Department of Natural Resources) or any other fishing and hunting TV shows? Yet they are plaguing our environment, so you have your answer right there. They’re oblivious,” he said.

The issue is likely not denial, but plain old lack of education, Lucido speculates. There’s just not enough advocacy to spread information on PFAS — well, the information we have, that is.

“In 2017, we allocated $35 million in appropriations to put someone in a lab, and that went into effect in 2018. But some of that money is also supposed to go to education. Public service statements should be done, more media. We need to make people stewards of self-policing, particularly if they’re on well water,” Lucido explained, noting that well systems aren’t regulated by law like conventional water delivery systems. “If you’re on a well, get the health department over and get it checked.”

Approximately a quarter of Michigan residents still use a well water system, which is the highest of any state in the nation.

And for water that is tested by the state, without a maximum contaminant level, or MCL, it’s not required that users of that water system be notified. Bigger facilities, sure. But not always individuals.

“As part of our public water and school testing program, we notify the municipal water systems and schools with their testing results,” said Scott Dean, a spokesperson with the MDEQ. “We do the same thing within areas with known contamination where we are doing private well sampling.”

That’s what happened when the Oakland Schools Technical Campus Northwest tested positive for PFAS in the drinking water. The school was made aware, but students weren’t, according to Timothy Loock, the executive director of auxiliary services, maintenance and facility operations for Oakland Schools.

“(Testing) was done with two samples per their testing protocol to ensure accuracy. The results show that while PFAS is present in the water at the site, it is at 12 ppt, well below the Lifetime Health Advisory level of 70 ppt,” Loock said in an email. “The OSTC NW campus was not identified as a site that needed additional action. However, in the interest of our students and staff, and following the lead of the MDEQ plan, we will continue to monitor and test regularly to ensure the water remains safe.”

With so much at stake, Lucido said he and other members of the state Legislature are turning the pressure up on newly appointed MDEQ Director Liesl Clark to hunker down and get a focused and data-driven MCL in place, along with a policy for remediation. After all, we can test for PFAS, but at this point we don’t know how to get rid of it.

Lucido added that once science figures out how to remove the contaminant from water systems, the next step is to figure out who should foot the bill.

“Out at Selfridge, that’s a base that’s overseen by the feds, meaning our federal government needs to pony up, participate and put out money to do the job. It’s their mess, so it’s their responsibility to clean up,” he said.

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