According to the Environmental Working Group, Michigan is home to approximately one-third of the country’s known PFAS contamination sites.

According to the Environmental Working Group, Michigan is home to approximately one-third of the country’s known PFAS contamination sites.

Map provided by EWG


Michigan leads nation in PFAS contamination sites

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published May 14, 2019

METRO DETROIT — The environmental crisis of  per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, may be even worse than originally thought, according to a new study from the Environmental Working Group.

The nonprofit bipartisan group released a map last week outlining the sites across the country where PFAS are being leached into groundwater, surface water or drinking water. Michigan reportedly has close to 200 sites — a solid chunk of the 610 locations in 43 states from coast to coast.

That’s a big jump from last summer’s findings, when the group mapped out 172 sites in 40 states. EWG officials explained on the group’s website that different, more stringent standards were used for this year’s map, which was completed and accurate as of March of this year. It’s worth mentioning, too, that Michigan is one of the only states to have a dedicated PFAS testing facility to quickly test water samples, and more of them.

PFAS and variations of the compound are chemicals used in commercial and industrial products — namely, fire retardants and formerly the Scotch-Guard protectant from the company 3M. Studies have linked the chemical to a variety of increased health risks, from cancer and endocrine disturbances to reproductive and child development issues. It’s been dubbed the “forever chemical” because it does not break down over time. PFAS have to be filtered from contaminated water.

“Michigan clearly has a severe problem with PFAS contamination. But a big reason the state has so many sites on our map is that Michigan is doing a more (thorough) job of testing for contamination than anywhere else,” Bill Walker, the vice president and editor-in-chief of EWG, said in an email. “In the absence of federal action to deal seriously with this nationwide crisis, other states should follow Michigan’s example and also set health-protective legal limits that will require water systems to test their water, tell their customers what they found, and filter the water to lower levels of PFAS.”

Within the same week that the new EWG map was released, several Michigan legislators announced new efforts to rid the state of dangerous PFAS.

Michigan Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, joined eight other senators to announce a bipartisan piece of federal legislation called the PFAS Accountability Act. According to a press release, the act would hold federal agencies accountable for addressing PFAS contamination at military bases around the country, where the chemicals have been used often in extinguishing fires during drills.

“The last thing that Michigan families who were exposed to PFAS-contaminated water and soil need is finger-pointing from our federal agencies,” said Stabenow in a press release. “Our legislation will bring quicker relief for families by holding the Department of Defense and all federal agencies more accountable.”

Michigan Democratic U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens introduced legislation last week that would direct the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to add PFAS chemicals to the list of hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

According to Stevens’ office, the chemical is known for its contamination of water supplies, but it is also emitted by air, though there hasn’t been much research in that area. Part of her Prevent Release of Toxic Emissions, Contamination and Transfer Act, or PROTECT, would seek to develop testing methods for finding PFAS in the air.

Even though the Great Lakes State is ahead of the game in PFAS mitigation, will new legislation be enough? Walker said it’s a start, but Michigan families are already at risk of health damage.

“Individuals can take steps to protect their families by installing a home water filter with a reverse osmosis system,” he said, noting that the EWG website has tips on buying filter systems.

In C & G Newspapers’ coverage area, most municipal water systems are serviced by the Great Lakes Water Authority, which has tested negative for PFAS.

But most importantly, Walker said, regulations need to be strengthened to prevent further contamination of the environment by companies using PFAS products. The current recommended cap on PFAS in Michigan is 70 parts per trillion for drinking water, but researchers and legislators agree the figure is arbitrary and there’s no data yet that shows PFAS levels lower than 70 ppt are safe.

“We must stop allowing new PFAS substances and other chemicals on the market without adequate safety testing,” Walker said.

To view the interactive PFAS contamination map and to learn more about PFAS, visit ewg.org.