LANSING – Michigan elected officials and environmental groups urged quick state action Thursday after a published report showed industry is still releasing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances into some Michigan waterways.
Department of Environmental Quality officials, contacted following an MLive report that catalogued large quantities of PFAS discharged by industry into waterways, said efforts are already underway to find sources and eliminate the contamination.
Solutions containing PFAS have been banned for several years from plating and other industries but a review of records by MLive showed several plating plants around the state are still releasing the chemicals in their waste water, which flows to treatment plants that are not removing the material.
The MLive story indicated that wastewater treatment plants cannot filter out PFAS but DEQ spokesperson Scott Dean said the department is working with the treatment plants and some sources of the chemical to do just that. He acknowledged, though, that it could take months to find and eliminate all sources of the chemicals.
“We’re not just studying the matter. We’re taking action,” Dean said. “We’re going after it in all areas of the chain.”
Critics said the department must move faster and should be forced to if it will not on its own.
“The state of Michigan must enforce water quality laws immediately and be fully transparent with residents if waterways in Michigan are contaminated,” U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) said in a statement. “We know PFAS are dangerous chemicals and we should be doing everything we can to keep our communities safe, including enforcing existing laws that protect public health and the environment. I will continue to work with my Republican and Democratic colleagues to regulate PFAS at a federal level, expedite cleanup efforts and keep Michigan families safe.”
“Today’s report proves that our rivers and lakes are being illegally polluted with PFOS and yet there seems to be very little urgency from our current governor to protect public health and taking immediate action,” Bob Allison, deputy director at Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. “Our state government has repeatedly downplayed the scope and scale of this PFAS contamination crisis in order to mitigate political exposure – and we see it again today with the fact that we’re only learning about the role wastewater treatment plants are playing because of an investigative news article. It’s time for a full airing of this administration’s poor handling of this public health crisis, starting with why a 2012 DEQ report that raised alarm bells of this crisis was ignored by state officials for five years.”
Allison said the latest report should motivate the Legislature to take up HB 5373 to establish drinking water standards for PFAS.
Dean said the department has been working with wastewater treatment facilities to determine if they are releasing PFAS in their effluent and, if so, to both treat that water and find the sources.
“The focus is on eliminating the source,” he said.
He said 19 treatment plants around the state were found to have excessive levels of PFAS in the water they release.
He said several treatment plants had already been able to find their PFAS sources because there were few of them. “We’ve made good progress in getting them to put in treatment,” he said of the industrial sources.
Some treatment plants also are increasing the carbon filtering they were already using to remove more of the chemicals.
The DEQ was found to be one of those sources: water from an abandoned industrial facility that was being treated for other contaminants had PFAS in the water being sent to the local treatment plant. Dean said the department spent some $2 million to install pretreatment to remove the PFAS.
“It could take many months to come to identify some of these larger sources,” he said. Grand Rapids, for instance, could have multiple sources of PFAS upstream from its treatment plant that would need to be found, he said.
While industry is no longer using the chemicals, Dean said they can cling to plumbing, and material in that plumbing, and continue to be released until the facilities are cleaned. Treatment plants also can have the chemicals mixed with the sediments in their systems, he said.
Dean argued the legal action against Wolverine World Wide and the dispute resolution process ongoing with the U.S. Air Force show the department is also willing to take legal and enforcement action when needed to address the issue.
This story was published by Gongwer News Service.