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Michigan lawmakers, environmentalists call EPA Action Plan on PFAS "more foot-dragging"

Van Etten Lake in Oscoda, Michigan
Kaye LaFond
Michigan Radio

A number of environmental groups, Democratic politicians, and citizens who live in areas contaminated with PFAS are criticizing Thursday's PFAS Action Plan announcement by the U.S. EPA.

PFAS is a class of chemicals linked to health problems that's contaminating many drinking water systems.  

In the announcement, EPA Interim Administrator Andrew Wheeler said by year's end, the agency will begin the rule making process for deciding if it should set a drinking water limit for two PFAS chemicals. 

It's just more "foot-dragging," according to James Clift is with the Michigan Environmental Council. He says the EPA already knows its current health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion is too high. So permanent rule making could start immediately. 

And in the short term, "they could be jumping into emergency rule-making to protect the potentially up to 100 million people in the country that have exposure to PFAS," says Clift.

He says the most current research indicates a safer level of PFAS would be 18 parts per trillion, not 70 parts per trillion.

Michigan Senator Gary Peters also criticized the action plan in a statement:

This plan falls far short of the commitments promised by EPA leadership a year ago. We know PFAS contamination can have devastating health impacts – and Michigan families across the state that have been exposed for too long rightly deserve answers, but more importantly they deserve action.
This report makes it even clearer to me that this Administration will continue to delay action for as long as possible. EPA has yet to publish important groundwater cleanup standards that have been in White House interagency review for six months, so I have little confidence in the agency’s ability to initiate enforceable cleanup and drinking water regulations.

Clift says he thinks Michigan has the authority to set its own standard, despite a lame-duck passed bill forbidding the state from adopting a pollution standard stricter than the federal government's standard. 

That's because the EPA has not yet set a standard - the current 70 parts per trillion number is only a health advisory.

"I would argue since the feds don't even have a standard, nothing stops Michigan from moving forward," says Clift.

Even so, Clift says the Michigan Senate has made the process for setting a statewide PFAS drinking water standard more difficult. The Senate passed a resolution Thursday overturning one of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's executive orders.  That order would have eliminated a lame duck-approved new panel allowing polluters to have a say in setting environmental standards.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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