Suspected PFAS foam on the Huron River
Suspected PFAS foam on the Huron River from 2019.

This morning, the US Environmental Protection Agency released proposed drinking water standards for several of the most common PFAS found in drinking water systems. The environmental and public health communities along with PFAS impacted communities have been waiting for this news. Last summer, the EPA released interim health advisory levels for several PFAS, indicating PFAS are significantly more toxic than previously thought.

Under the proposal, PFOA and PFOS would each be regulated at the lowest level they can be reliably detected, 4 parts per trillion. PFOA is the notorious chemical at the center of the film Dark Waters. PFOS is the chemical most commonly found throughout the Huron River watershed. The proposed rules for PFOS and PFOA are more protective than any existing drinking water standard for those chemicals in any state.

A set of other chemicals: PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX chemicals, will be regulated by a method called hazard index calculation, to determine if the combined total level poses potential risks.

There is mounting evidence that for many PFAS chemicals there is no safe level of exposure. There is mounting evidence that these “forever chemicals” can be found everywhere, in our rivers and lakes, in fish and wildlife, in our household goods, food packaging, and our bodies. There is mounting evidence of the harm these chemicals cause to humans and other living creatures. The only reasonable way out of this is for swift federal and state action toward the elimination of the use of this class of chemicals.

In the near term, we need to:

  1. Incorporate the EPA’s more protective drinking water standards into Michigan’s drinking water standards and cleanup criteria.
  2. Provide drinking water utilities funding to make necessary upgrades to water treatment facilities. This source should not be local taxpayer dollars.
  3. Find ways to avoid the purchase and use of products containing the chemicals by, for example, updating procurement guidelines and suing companies that are not working to phase out of these chemicals quickly enough, and rewarding companies like REI and Patagonia that have committed to the phasing out PFAS from items they sell.
  4. Make it difficult for industry to continue to use these chemicals in manufacturing by increasing consequences for releases or spills containing PFAS, eliminating the purchase of goods made using PFAS, and strengthening regulations on wastewater discharge.
  5. We need polluter accountability. The State of Michigan must pass strong Polluter Pay laws.

The Huron River has been seriously impacted because PFAS was released to the river by a single bad actor. We can no longer safely eat our fish. We have had to make huge investments to drinking water treatment. Our public health departments and cities and towns have put many resources toward monitoring and public education to keep people safe. And we are just one spot on the map of many areas impacted, for the long term, by these chemicals. It is unacceptable.