2018-09-13 / Opinions

Taking action to protect the public’s water: what are PFAS?

Submitted by Huron County Health Department

HURON COUNTY — Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), are part of a group of chemicals used globally during the past century in manufacturing, firefighting and thousands of common household and other consumer products. In recent years, experts have become increasingly concerned by the potential effects of high concentrations of PFAS on human health. Although there is more to learn about PFAS and human health, the State of Michigan takes this issue seriously and is one of the first states in the nation to establish a clean-up standard for PFAS in groundwater used for drinking water.

The Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) was launched in 2017, and is the first multi-agency action team of its kind in the nation. Agencies representing health, environment and other branches of state government have joined together to investigate sources and locations of PFAS contamination in the state, take action to protect people’s drinking water, and keep the public informed as we learn more about this nationally emerging contaminant.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has begun a statewide initiative to test drinking water from all schools that use well water and community water supplies for PFAS. MDEQ is taking this precautionary step of testing these drinking water sources to determine if public health actions are needed. Testing in our area schools will begin in September. It generally takes 8-10 weeks for results.

It is not uncommon to find low levels of PFAS in drinking water supplies, as PFAS can be found in fire-fighting foams, stain repellants, nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing, food wrappers, and many other household products. They do not break down in the environment and move easily into water.

Two animal species are also tested for PFAS: fish and deer. Michigan is in the process of testing deer for PFAS chemicals. Results of that testing are expected to be announced in the fall. The Eat Safe Fish guidelines are set to be protective for everyone including children and pregnant and breastfeeding women. They are also set to be protective for people with existing health problems such as cancer or diabetes. For the full list of fish guidelines pertaining to all chemicals for all waterbodies, visit the Eat Safe Fish website.

Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS) also partners with Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) to evaluate the potential for wild game, including waterfowl such as ducks, sampling. Collection of waterfowl requires careful consideration of the species and migration patterns to ensure the sampling would result in information beneficial for hunters. Michigan will be discussing the species present in the area and their migration patterns to determine next steps.

For more information, visit our website at www.hchd.us, go to the PFAS information link located down the right side of the page. The second link will provide you information on testing and also a map with projected timelines for testing and those already completed in the state and their results. Visit https:// www.michigan.gov/pfasresponse for additional information on PFAS.

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