We commonly get asked by residents of our watershed where PFAS has been detected and if they need to take any action to protect themselves from these toxic chemicals. Those questions often take some digging to answer. Thankfully, the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) have developed a new mapping tool to help answer those questions. The map is part of a broader effort to help people understand their own risks to PFAS and the scope of PFAS contamination.
About the map
The map combines data from several monitoring efforts into a single “one-stop-shop.” A user can zoom into the area around their own home, say, and can quickly see where any surface water or public drinking water samples from the Statewide Testing Initiative that began in 2018 have detected PFAS, or if any known PFAS-contaminated sites are nearby. The tool will be especially welcome to many people throughout our watershed that may live close to a PFAS site.
For years, the state has been sampling lakes, rivers, streams and public drinking water sources for PFAS. They have also been investigating contaminated sites across the state. While the information has always been publicly available, it was in different places across a complicated and technical website. The new map brings the information together in a visual tool that anyone can access.
MPART works with a Citizens Advisory Workgroup (CAWG) comprised of residents from affected communities across Michigan. I represent the Huron River watershed and Ann Arbor within that group, and other members represent specific communities within the watershed. One of the key benefits of the CAWG thus far is that it has given residents a clear channel to communicate their concerns to state agencies while getting regular updates on efforts to address PFAS. Recommending the state provide a single PFAS map that combines the data available was a priority for several CAWG members, myself included.
Tips for using the map
The map can be overwhelming at first glance, but there are just three layers to consider:
- Purple triangles are contaminated PFAS sites.
- Green squares show where surface water samples have been collected.
- Blue dots and the hexagons around them show where and how many public drinking water sources have been sampled.
By clicking on the triangles, squares, or hexagons, a user can get more detailed information about which PFAS chemicals were detected, how much was found, and when the sampling was conducted. Each layer can be toggled on or off by clicking on its circular icon in the legend on the left-hand side.
In the right hand menu, I found two menu options particularly useful. Click on the funnel in the upper right to filter results by county, town, or body of water. I could instantly pull up the surface water results for just the Huron River. By clicking on the “Near Me” map marker button, a user can plug in their address and zoom the map to a specific location they’re interested in.
One overall theme jumps out at you as you begin clicking on the various symbols: PFAS contamination, at least at a low level, is widespread. While most drinking water sources contain little or no detectable PFAS, most lakes and rivers in Michigan do. It reminds us that these chemicals persist in the environment for a very long time, that they are pervasive, and that once PFAS pollution is out there, it’s nearly impossible to remove. The solution is therefore to not release them into the environment in the first place.