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PFAS

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

Today on Stateside, why one maker of PFAS chemicals is challenging Michigan’s protections for drinking water. Plus, an international standoff is brewing over Enbridge Energy's Line 5 oil pipeline. And, two Beaver Island residents send out a radio program from the middle of Lake Michigan.

PFAS foam on lakeshore
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality / Flickr http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

Minnesota-based company 3M is suing the state of Michigan over its regulations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or the PFAS family of chemicals. Michigan's regulations on PFAS in drinking water were finalized in August 2020, and are among the most stringent in the country.

PFAS foam on the Huron River.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan put in place drinking water standards for the chemical family of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in August 2020. Those are among the most stringent in the country.

Nearly eight months later, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy says it's been seeing a lot of success in getting public water systems in compliance with the new rules. Michigan has roughly 2,700 public water works, and EGLE reports that most of those systems are in compliance.

MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY / FLICKR HTTP://BIT.LY/1XMSZCG

Michigan members of Congress are once again pushing legislation to speed the cleanup of sites contaminated with PFAS.

PFAS are a family of industrial chemicals linked to serious human health problems. PFAS can be found in a variety of commercially-produced products, ranging from housewares to firefighting foam.

The Environmental Working Group says there are 2,337 PFAS contamination sites in 49 States. There are 162 sites in Michigan.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

It appears the United States Air Force is in no hurry to abide by Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s request to use Michigan’s standards for cleaning up PFAS contamination at a former Air Force base.

The former Wurtsmith Air Force base
Mike Fritcher / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is hoping that a federal law will be able to help speed up Department of Defense cooperation with cleaning up contamination from per- and polyfluoralalkyl sybstances, or PFAS, in Oscoda Township near Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

In 2020, the National Defense Authorization Act included section 332. It allows a governor to request changes or an entirely new cooperative agreement over remediation at sites by PFAS as a result of DOD activities.

“PFAS in the House” was produced by Great Lakes Now/Detroit Public TV, in partnership with Type Investigations.

After spending several months reporting on the PFAS crisis, an alarming realization hit — taco night might be poisoning me.

I learned that the type of nonstick pans that I used to fry the fish usually contain the toxic chemicals, also called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Research alerted me to their use in some types of parchment paper used to roll tortillas, while the aluminum foil in which I wrapped leftovers raised a red flag with its “nonstick” label. For dessert, I purchased cookies that a local bakery packed in the type of paper bags sometimes treated with PFAS, and the chemicals may have been in my tap water and fish.

PFAS is in fish and wildlife. Researchers prowl Michigan for clues.

Feb 16, 2021
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

J.D. Hock’s heart sank in 2018, when the state of Michigan warned it was unsafe to eat deer harvested within a five-mile radius of Clark’s Marsh in Oscoda Township.

For decades, his family had hunted on property just outside the “do not eat” zone. He had just mailed “an insane amount” of venison jerky to his son-in-law, an armed service member in Afghanistan.

Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin talks to voters at a town hall in Hartland in 2019, justifying the first formal impeachment inquiry into former President Donald Trump..
Tyler Scott

Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin said in a speech Wednesday evening that some of the biggest threats facing her Michigan constituents are domestic terrorism, environmental health, and the pandemic.

Slotkin said toxic political division in the U.S. fans the flames of violence and extremism – like the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. In her second State of the District address, presented virtually, Slotkin urged people to find political common ground with their neighbors.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan members of Congress are pressing the Biden administration to do more to address PFAS contamination.

PFAS are a family of industrial chemicals that have been linked to a wide range of human health problems. 

A letter from the Congressional PFAS Task Force is asking for, among other things, the creation of a new national drinking water standard for PFAS.

The task force also wants more cooperation from federal agencies. 

Courtesy: Ecology Center

A Michigan-based environmental group has found many nonstick pans are coated with a chemical from the PFAS family.

“We suspected that a lot of pans that say nonstick would be coated with PTFE without saying so on their packaging. And that was one of the findings of this investigation. That Teflon-type coatings, the same polymer, are very common on nonstick cookware. But, it’s very hard to tell from the packaging you see in the store,” said Gillian Miller, senior scientist with the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor.


A rusty barrel in the woods
Bryce Huffman

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is signing up eligible residents of four West Michigan communities for a study of the potential long term health impacts of exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. The study is called the Michigan PFAS Exposure and Health Study (MiPEHS).

PFAS foam on the Huron River.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Biden campaign platform promises to designate some chemicals in the PFAS family as hazardous substances. That’s something the Trump administration also promised. The EPA completed recommendations more than a year ago and nothing has happened. One report suggests the White House might be holding up those recommendations.

BRYCE HUFFMAN / Michigan Radio

Michigan health officials plan to study the potential long-term health effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure on people in four West Michigan communities.

PFAS are a class of industrial chemicals linked to health problems like cancer, and thyroid disease. Known as “forever chemicals” that remain intact in the environment and human bodies for a long time, PFAS are present in substances ranging from firefighting foam to food packaging.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

One chemical in the PFAS family is showing up more often and in greater concentrations in fish.

The PFAS chemical is PFOS.

Do not eat the fish because of pfas sign
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Surface water levels of PFAS chemicals have plummeted in a creek that flows into the Huron River, after a state investigation.  

Investigators went upstream from Ann Arbor to try to discover the source or sources after PFAS chemicals showed up in the city's treated drinking water in 2018. 

A main source was discovered to be the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was discharging PFAS-laden effluent from Tribar Manufacturing, a plating company, into Norton Creek, which flows into the Huron River. 

PFAS foam on the Huron River.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

New legislation in the Michigan Senate would increase the timeframe during which legal action could be taken against polluters in Michigan.

Under current state law, the clock on when legal action can be taken starts ticking at the moment pollution occurs.

firefighting foam
Adobe Stock

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has filed lawsuits against nearly three dozen companies that make firefighting foams, known in the industry as AFFF, or aqueous film-forming foam.

AFFF contains PFAS, a family of chemicals used in many industries, including the firefighting industry. They can persist in the environment for hundreds of years and even longer, and build up in the tissues of fish, animals and humans. PFAS are also linked to illnesses including cancer. 

Adobe Stock

Legislation soon will be introduced in Michigan to ban food packaging that contains toxic chemicals such as PFAS, bisphenols, or phthalates.

Some restaurants stopped using packaging containing PFAS, but some of the biggest chains still do.

State Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) says it’s time to stop.

Do not eat the fish because of pfas sign
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s new PFAS drinking water standards went into effect this week. The restrictions include seven more common chemicals from the PFAS family. Michigan's regulations are among the strictest in the U.S.

Liesl Clark is the Director of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. She says the state continues to search for the sources of the toxic chemicals in the state. Recently 38 new contaminated sites were identified.

Former Wurtsmith AFB, Oscoda, Michigan (file photo)
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Air Force met with Oscoda residents on Wednesday to discuss plans for how they'll use millions of dollars earmarked for cleanup of the former Wurtsmith Air Force base.

The former airbase has been a known source of PFAs pollution for nearly 10 years, leading to “do not eat” advisories for local wildlife and warnings posted around the local lake.

PFAs are a family of chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems found at sites across the state, including at Wurtsmith.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

A Michigan congressman wants to see the United States Air Force focus more on cleaning up PFAS contamination at a former Air Force base in northern Michigan.

Representative Dan Kildee (D-Flint) says there's been too much focus on studying the problem.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan firefighters have new rules for when they use firefighting foam containing industrial chemicals known as PFAS.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Research into the Defense Department’s records finds hundreds of military installations are contaminated with PFAS. The toxic substances are confirmed to be in the tap water or ground water in 328 military sites. They’re suspected in the water at 350 more sites. (See map here.)

Running faucet
Melissa Benmark / Michigan Radio

Michigan could have new PFAS rules in place as early as April. That's after the Environmental Rules Review Committee approved the proposed rules Thursday.

The committee voted to approve a set of draft rules regulating the industrial contaminants, which includes drinking water standards for seven types of PFAS.

A rusty barrel in the woods
Bryce Huffman

Minnesota-based 3M will pay $55 million to Wolverine Worldwide to address PFAS contamination in Kent County.

Wolverine Worldwide is based in Rockford. It has said it could spend $113 million to meet its obligations in a settlement with the State of Michigan and two townships over PFAS. That money includes $69.5 million to extend a municipal water system to more than 1,000 residences where PFAS has been found in well water.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates it will take years to regulate PFAS in drinking water, if it does at all. 

The USEPA has proposed to regulate two forms of the thousands of chemicals in the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances family. PFOA and PFOS were the most commonly used.

DEQ (now EGLE)

Federal district judge Janet Neff approved a settlement agreement between the state of Michigan, two Kent County townships, and Wolverine Worldwide.

Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick
Michigan Radio

Today on Stateside, as President Trump pardons a slew of white-collar criminals, some Detroiters are asking for consideration for Kwame Kilpatrick. The former Detroit mayor is serving a lengthy sentence on corruption charges. What would a commutation do for Trump's standing in metro Detroit? Also, a new documentary tells the story of how a lakeside town in West Michigan became contaminated with PFAS.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Many residents in northern Kent County say they're happy with a proposed settlement agreement over contamination from chemicals known as PFAS in the area, though some said they wish the agreement would go further. 

The Michigan attorney general's office held a forum to hear public comments on its consent decree Monday night in Rockford. More than 100 people showed up.

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