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US EPA proposes rule to designate PFOS and PFOA as hazardous substances

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Lester Graham
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Michigan Radio
The U.S. Air Force hired contractors to monitor wells for levels of PFAS. A fire-fighting foam used in training for years contained PFAS and has contaminated drinking water wells and the Au Sable River. (file photo)

Environmental groups are praising a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal to designate two of the most common per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances. PFOA and PFOS contamination has been found at several sites throughout Michigan. The toxic chemicals have gotten into public and private water sources.

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Lester Graham
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Michigan Radio

“What this means for Michigan is that sites, for example, the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base up in Oscoda, that are being cleaned up by the federal government will have different standards for PFAS that they’ll need to adhere to,” said Jennifer Hill, Associate Director for the Great Lakes Regional Center of the National Wildlife Federation.

She said the designation makes it clear that no levels of PFOA or PFOS chemicals are safe for people, fish, or wildlife and that the federal government will have to clean up to its own standards.

The discovery of PFAS contamination led to warnings against fishing in rivers such as the Huron in southeast Michigan and the Rogue in western Michigan as well as others.

The National Wildlife Federation noted earlier this year the EPA also released updated lifetime health advisories for several chemicals in the PFAS family, setting them at .004 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and .02 ppt for PFOS rather than the EPA’s earlier guideline at the much higher 70 ppt for the two chemicals combined.

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Lester Graham
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Michigan Radio
PFAS contamination from the Wurstmith Air Force Base spread to nearby natural areas, contaminating fish and wildlife.

The Great Lakes PFAS Action Network, a group of several environmental organizations, issued a news release calling the proposed PFAS hazardous substance designation a major step forward for cleaning up contamination from industrial polluters.

“Under this proposed rule, communities like mine in Oscoda, Michigan will have a more powerful tool to push for cleanups and to recover the economic losses that have literally been dumped upon us by the Defense Department and other polluters,” said Tony Spaniola, co-chair of the network.

Michigan has done more than some other Great Lakes states in identifying contaminated sites. It also has established drinking water standards that are stricter than the federal government’s suggested guidelines. Other states in the region and across the nation will have to come to grips with the EPA’s rule once it’s set.

It’s expected it will take about a year for the EPA to set standards and finalize rules for the two chemicals.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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