By Joel Kurth, Bridge Magazine
This article was originally published on Bridge Magazine.
MACKINAC ISLAND – A report this month found Michigan leads the nation in sites contaminated with toxic chemicals known as PFAS, and the state’s bipartisan delegation in Congress has introduced a flurry of legislation to increase testing.
Among the federal bills: one to provide the U.S. Geological Survey with $45 million to develop new standards to detect PFAS, and another would test for at least 30 strains of the chemicals.
PFAS, shorthand for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, was used for decades in non-stick and water-resistant household products like Teflon and firefighting foam. The Environmental Working Group, a Washington D.C. nonprofit advocacy group, this month released a report showing that Michigan has 192 PFAS sites, roughly a third of the 610 locations identified nationwide in 43 states.
“In order to move on this issue, we have come together,” U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat, said ata media briefing Wednesday on the porch of the Grand Hotel at the Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference.
He was among congressional members who pledged to fight PFAS and the spread of Asian carp in the Great Lakes. Some members of the delegation plan a fact-finding trip to Illinois on July 1 to learn about efforts to keep Asian carp from entering the lakes from the Illinois River. A non-native fish, the carp are “voracious and often outcompete native fish for food and habitat,” according to a report from the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network.
“The safety and security of our water is vital to the safety and security of everything we do here [in Michigan],” said Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet.
Bergman and Peters were joined by Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow; Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and Democratic Reps. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, Andy Levin of Berkley, Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills and Elissa Slotkin of Holly.
They announced legislation to require the EPA to set a standard to determine how much PFAS is dangerous.
The agency has set a lifetime health advisory for PFOA and PFOS at 70 parts per trillion, but federal research recently made public suggests exposure could be harmful at much lower levels.
The advisory, however, is nonbinding. At some Michigan sites, officials have detected PFAS levels below the threshold, while higher levels at sites such as the closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Iosco County have prompted warnings not to drink groundwater of eat deer or fish killed in the area.
“The folks in Oscoda have waited too long for a national standard,” Peters said. “The EPA is moving on this too slowly. This is an issue that needs to be dealt with swiftness.”
Slotkin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Bridge Magazine that Congress may soon allocate money for PFAS cleanups in Michigan including Wurtsmith.
“The military has a responsibility and we are about to literally next week mark up the 1,000-page Pentagon budget and you will see quite a bit about PFAS,” said Slotkin, who sponsored the legislation to require PFAS testing at municipal water systems.
She said Michigan has the most identified PFAS sites in the nation because “we are testing” and “ahead of the game.”
“Michigan will be the place where we come up with innovative cleanup solutions because we don’t have a ton now,” Slotkin said.