EGLE PFAS hearing in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Photo by Sen. Jeff Irwin.

HRWC Provides Comments

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) held a public hearing last night at Washtenaw Community College regarding proposed statewide drinking water standards for seven PFAS chemicals. The hearing was the second of three to be held across the state. The final one will be in Roscommon on January 16th.

PFAS chemicals are associated with numerous health risks, and the proposed standards would place regulatory protections on some in this class of chemicals for which there are currently none. The federal government does not regulate PFAS, and the EPA has only provided non-enforceable guidance on two PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA. The State of Michigan, starting under Governor Snyder and now under Governor Whitmer, has taken an expedited approach to putting protections in place.

Several organizations, including HRWC provided public comments for the record during the Ann Arbor hearing. State senator Jeff Irwin, the Michigan Environmental Council, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club, and the Ecology Center were among those that spoke. Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and an HRWC board member, summed up the broad concerns of Michigan residents by saying, “People are scared, baffled and angry that in a state literally defined by water, 1.9 million people could have some level of PFAS in their water.”

Rebecca Esselman, HRWC Executive Director provided our comments. Overall, we’d like to see the proposed standards put in place as soon as possible. While flawed, they are a vast improvement from the relative absence of protection that Michigan residents currently have.

That said, HRWC’s two biggest concerns about the proposed drinking water standards are:

  1. There needs to be a total PFAS limit. Many of the chemicals have overlapping or similar health effects and they accumulate in the body over time. That means the health risks of the chemicals could add up regardless of which specific chemical a person is exposed to. It is possible that a drinking water source could be under the threshold for each chemical individually, but above unhealthy levels when the chemicals are considered in total.
  2. PFAS should be regulated as a class of chemicals.There are over 5000 PFAS chemicals currently in use. Placing regulations on some will simply allow polluters to use other PFAS compounds. We’ve seen this before with other harmful chemicals. One is banned and another chemical that’s just as bad replaces it and the cycle repeats. The only way to break the cycle and truly protect people is to regulate the entire family of chemicals in some way.

The Huron River watershed is an unfortunate case study for dealing with PFAS across municipal boundaries. The primary source of contamination came from Wixom, but Ann Arbor residents are the ones drinking water drawn from the river. Treatment mechanisms are in place at both ends, and we know that it is far more effective to treat the contamination near the source. But the source is out of Ann Arbor’s jurisdiction, and Ann Arbor will still be subject to the new drinking water standards and much of the cost for cleaning up a mess they didn’t create. That doesn’t seem fair.

We need state leadership (and funding) to find ways to work between communities, protect residents, and lower costs. We need your voice to make sure our state leaders get that message. Tell EGLE and your elected representatives to enact the drinking water standards, make polluters pay, and find ways to treat contamination at the source.

Submit written comments to EGLE by 5 p.m. January 31st. Address comments to EGLE, DWEHD, Attention: Suzanne Ruch P.O. Box 30817, Lansing, MI 48909-8311 or email