About PFAS

  • PFAS are a family of thousands of toxic, synthetic chemicals associated with many health problems.
  • PFAS pollution is widespread. PFAS have been found in the Huron River and many watersheds across the country.
  • PFAS are commonly used in industrial processes in are many common household products.
  • PFAS pollution in drinking water is not regulated by federal law.
  • The State of Michigan has established drinking water standards for seven PFAS chemicals. State rules are now in place for cleanups regarding the seven chemicals for which there are drinking water standards.

Key Facts for Residents and Visitors of the Huron River

  • All public drinking water in the Huron River watershed is compliant with Michigan drinking water standards.
  • Private wells have not been tested in most cases. The state has no authority over private residential wells. Concerned residents on private wells should contact their county health departments.
  • Do not eat fish from the Huron River. HRWC also recommends not consuming fish from connected lakes or creeks below Proud Lake. The state issued a “Do Not Eat Fish” advisory that applies to most of the Huron River below Milford.
  • Canoeing, kayaking, and swimming are okay. There is no evidence that swimming in water contaminated with PFAS is a health risk, but repeated ingestion of PFAS following skin contact is a concern.
  • Avoid contact with river foam. PFAS concentrates at high levels in foam. If you do make contact with foam, rinse off with non-foamy river water and wash up when you get home.

PFAS Contamination in Groundwater and Drinking Water in the Huron River Watershed

Since 2018, the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) has coordinated PFAS sampling in public drinking water and the identification of PFAS contamination at sites across the state.

MPART and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) maintain a PFAS Geographic Information System that shows active PFAS site investigations and test results. The tools shows all known PFAS sites in the Huron River Watershed. The map is updated regularly.

The state of Michigan maintains a PFAS Geographic Information System that shows PFAS investigation sites and sampling results.
The state of Michigan maintains a PFAS Geographic Information System that shows PFAS investigation sites and sampling results.

More than 90% of Michigan drinking water supplies tested in Michigan do not contain detectable levels of PFAS, and in the Huron River watershed, the City of Ann Arbor is the only affected municipal drinking water system. The city has been proactive and aggressive in its treatment for PFAS, and has effectively reduced total PFAS contamination to very low levels. No specific PFAS chemical has exceeded the drinking water standards established in August of 2020.

There are other private drinking water systems that provide public drinking water. This category includes churches, gyms, apartment complexes, and schools. Some of these providers have tested positive for PFAS and the State of Michigan is pursuing solutions with each contaminated provider.

The State has no authority to test or regulate drinking water from private wells. Officials are reaching out to residents they believe may be at risk of contaminated groundwater due to their proximity to contaminated sites, and in some cases, state officials will request to test private wells. That process will be continual. HRWC recommends that any resident approached due to risk of contamination have their drinking water tested for PFAS in cooperation with the state. As of August 2020, we are not aware of any location in the watershed where contaminated surface waters are infiltrating nearby wells. The State of Michigan has also provided guidance on residential well water testing here.

Fish Advisory Information

MDHHS provides Eat Safe Fish guidebooks that anglers should use when planning where to fish.
MDHHS provides Eat Safe Fish guidebooks that anglers should use when planning where to fish.

Along most of the Huron River, it’s still not safe to eat fish from the Huron River. Fish tested throughout the Huron may be contaminated with high levels of PFAS. In 2018, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued a “Do Not Eat Fish” advisory due to PFAS contamination for the Huron River from the N. Wixom Road crossing in Milford to Lake Erie. While the advisory did not specifically apply to tributaries along the Huron River, HRWC is advising that fish should not be eaten from connecting lakes and creeks unless there is a significant barrier to fish. Areas above the Hi-Land Lake Dam on Portage Creek will be safe from the advisory, for example. In 2022, MDHHS relaxed the advisory for the section of the Huron from I-275 to Lake Erie. Read the Eat Safe Fish guidebook here to see what advisories are in place for the lake or stream you intend to fish. 

PFAS in Foam

Due to its properties as a surfactant, PFAS readily concentrates in foam at levels much higher than non-foamy water. For this reason, the state has recommends people and pets avoid contact with foam. These guidelines emphasize the fact that pets and young children are particularly at risk, since they are more likely to ingest the foam—in the case of animals by licking their fur, and in the case of children by placing their hands in their mouths.

Foam generated by PFAS tends to be bright white with a smooth surface texture that resembles shaving cream. It piles up on shores, blows inland and tends to be tacky or sticky.

Foam naturally occurs on rivers, but it’s difficult to determine if foam is “PFAS foam” or naturally occurring foam. Treat all foam as if it contains high levels of PFAS.

Photo of foam from 2013 that possibly contains PFAS, near Barton Dam, Ann Arbor, by Rebecca Foster.
Photo of foam from 2013 that possibly contains PFAS, near Barton Dam, Ann Arbor. Photo by Rebecca Foster.

Residents can report suspected PFAS foam by calling the Michigan 24-hour Pollution Emergency Alert System (PEAS) hotline at 800-292-4706 or by filling out a pollution spill form.  The state also encourages taking a photo of the foam while being careful to avoid contact. A summary of guidelines is available on HRWC’s website.

Stay Tuned for Updates

This is a rapidly developing issue for the Huron River watershed. There is still a lot we don’t know but we are learning more as ongoing research brings in new information. We will provide updates through emails, blogs, social networking posts, and media interviews.

Michigan residents concerned about PFAS in drinking water should contact the Michigan Environmental Assistance Center with questions, 800-662-9278, M-F, 8am-4:30pm.

We Need to Fix the Problem

PFAS contamination of Michigan’s waterways is widespread, and the chemicals have been used for decades in many common household products. We’ll need strong, systemic solutions from the state and federal government.

In August 2020, new drinking water standards (known as Maximum Contaminant Levels or MCLs) went into effect for seven specific PFAS chemicals. It was a significant improvement from teh absence of regulatory protections from PFAS exposure before that. But even before the new MCLs were in place, chemical manufacturers and other industries were developing and using replacement chemicals that appear to be similarly toxic as those now regulated.

We need state and federal lawmakers to:

  1. Halt non-essential PFAS use. PFAS use is pervasive, in food packaging, waterproofing, in lubricants, makeup, and even dental floss. In the vast majority of cases, the presence of PFAS is only there to improve convenience or the aesthetics of a product. These types of non-essential uses should be banned.
  2. Make polluters pay to clean up their own mess, not taxpayers or those drinking contaminated water. The polluter pay laws that were in place before the Governor Engler era should be reinstated, and PFAS chemicals should be included in new polluter pay legislation.
  3. Establish class-based PFAS protections. Many unregulated PFAS chemicals are known to be toxic and more information is coming to light that indicates the entire class of PFAS are toxic in some way. By banning some chemicals but not others, new toxic chemicals will simply replace the old toxic chemicals in a game of regulatory whack-a-mole until the entire class is regulated.
  4. Provide timely communication when PFAS site investigations begin and when concerning PFAS levels are detected. Current practices allow the state to notify polluters well in advance of affected residents. This allows polluters to get a head start, to potentially bias the remediation and cleanup process, and seek legal advice before affected residents can do so. Residents should be notified at the same time as polluters when a new investigation begins.

Protect the Huron River from PFAS pollution. You can help HRWC do that with your donation today.

More About PFAS

PFAS Are a Class of Toxic, Synthetic Chemicals

PFAS are toxic, synthetic chemicals that don’t break down readily in the environment. Because they last so long, they come to be known as “forever chemicals.”

PFAS is an acronym that stands for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances and covers a family of thousands of similar contaminants. Two PFAS chemicals commonly discussed in the media are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).

Exposure to PFAS is associated with a number of health risks including cancer, increased cholesterol levels, low infant birth weights, liver and kidney dysfunction, and thyroid disorders. PFAS chemicals negatively impact health when they accumulate in the human body over time, or when they are highly concentrated in the food and water we consume.

PFAS Are Everywhere

PFAS are used everywhere and are polluting water throughout Michigan and around the country. They are present in hundreds of everyday consumer products such as food packaging, non-stick cookware, carpets and upholstery, waxes, outdoor apparel, and even dental floss. Common sources in Michigan are believed to be industrial manufacturing sites and places where fire suppression foam has been discharged, like military bases and fire stations.

Most PFAS Are Not Regulated in Any Way

Unfortunately, most PFAS chemicals are not banned or even regulated. There is currently no federal regulation limiting PFAS pollution. The EPA has only issued advisory guidelines and has proposed a Significant New Use rule. The state of Michigan only regulates 7 PFAS chemicals out of a class of thousands of chemicals.

Where does my water come from?

To find out the source of your drinking water, go to our Maps page and select your creekshed. Click on the “Go Deeper” link and scroll down.

Ann Arbor Drinking Water

Ann Arbor is the only community that draws surface water for drinking water from the river and PFAS levels in the water supply have been well below the current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Health Advisory Level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt).[3] [4] [5][6] This year’s test results received from EGLE indicate that PFOS/PFOA levels in the city’s drinking water are low and often undetectable. The City of Ann Arbor tests both finished drinking water and its river source water for PFAS on a monthly basis. Regular updates are provided to the public. The City is also experimenting with ways to remove PFAS from drinking water.

Removing PFAS from Drinking Water in Ann Arbor

Currently, granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration is the best available technology for removing PFAS in drinking water. The City has GAC filters, and has been proactive in piloting a new type of carbon in several of its filters since November 2017. This new carbon has demonstrated enhanced removal of PFAS. Due to this success, city staff will present a plan to City Council in September to propose replacing all of the older carbon in the city’s filters with the new type of carbon. The total cost to replace the GAC in the filters and treat for PFAS chemicals was approximately $1 million in fiscal year 2019.

Private Wells

For residents on private wells, contact your county health department (see contacts below). The State of Michigan has also provided guidance on residential well water testing here.

As of September 2018, PFAS have not been detected at significant levels in private or municipal wells within the Huron River Watershed. Numerous other sites in Michigan have detected PFAS-contaminated groundwater.

Yes. PFAS are far less toxic through skin exposure and the concentrations found in the Huron River are not a concern. The occasional, accidental gulp of calm lake or river water is okay, though raw river water should never be consumed due to a variety of health risks. PFAS do collect at very high concentrations in foamy water, so avoid river contact with river foam, and be sure to avoid accidentally ingesting foam.

In 2020, drinking water standards went into effect for seven specific PFAS chemicals. The drinking water standards, known as Maximum Contaminant Levels or MCLs, followed the recommendation of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) provided draft rules to Governor Whitmer. The new rules apply directly to roughly 2,700 water supplies in Michigan. The MCLs were set through a scientific process that evaluated contaminants for their potential to harm human health. When the amount of a contaminant in drinking water is higher than the MCL, the water supply must take action such as treatment or follow-up testing.

 
Contaminant MCL (parts per trillion or ng/L)
Perfluorononanoic Acid (PFNA) 6
Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) 8
Perfluorooctane Sulfonic Acid (PFOS) 16
Perfluorohexane Sulfonic Acid (PFHxS) 51
Hexafluoropropylene Oxide Dimer Acid (HFPO-DA)
(a GenX compound)
370
Perfluorobutane Sulfonic Acid (PFBS) 420
Perfluorohexanoic Acid (PFHxA) 400,000

The State of Michigan now uses the drinking water standards as enforceable water quality standards and cleanup criteria (known as Maximum Contaminant Levels, or MCLs) for 7 PFAS compounds.

The State of Michigan, led by EGLE, continues to test all public water supplies and private water supplies that serve large numbers of the public. Michigan’s fire service community is collecting PFAS fire-fighting foam and removing it from use.

In the Huron River watershed, the City of Ann Arbor continues to test monthly for 24 PFAS chemicals. State agencies are periodically conducting surface water testing, fish sampling, and groundwater site investigations. Outbreaks of suspicious foam and credible information regarding past use of PFAS at specific locations informs both HRWC and state agencies on where to look next.

Identifying Sources of PFAS

There are many sources of PFAS. In Michigan, industrial manufacturing facilities, landfills, airports, and military facilities are commonly contaminated with PFAS. EGLE continues to identify contaminated PFAS sites across the state and the watershed. In some cases wastewater treatment plants are discharging PFAS they receive from industrial sources. For the most up-to-date information, use the state’s PFAS Geographic Information System. Treatment plants that treat industrial wastewater have also been under scrutiny, and such testing of effluent lead to the detection of PFAS at the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant.

There is still much we don’t know about PFAS. There are thousands of PFAS chemicals. Most are likely to be toxic, but the level of toxicity and the potential health effects varies widely from chemical to chemical.

We know that PFAS is pervasive throughout the environment and that they will be with us for a very long time.

HRWC has many unanswered questions about PFAS–about how they behave in the environment, how we can keep them out of our waterways, and how we can clean up contaminated areas. We will continue to provide updates on our website, social media, and through regular newsletters. HRWC staff present regularly on PFAS throughout the watershed. Please reach out to any of our staff if you have questions, concerns, or information.

For general questions or concerns about PFAS, or to find out who best to speak with, HRWC is happy to help. Contact Daniel Brown here.

For specific concerns about contamination of private wells, please contact your county health department:

Washtenaw County Health Department

Environmental Health Division
734-222-3800

Livingston County Health Department

Environmental Health Division
517-546-9858

Oakland County Health Department

Environmental Health Division
Monday-Friday 8:30 AM-5 PM
248-858-1312 Pontiac (North Oakland)
248-424-7190 Southfield (South Oakland)

Wayne County Health Department

Environmental Health Division
Monday – Friday 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM
734-727-7400

Monroe County Health Department

Environmental Health Division
Monday-Friday 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
734-240-7900

City of Ann Arbor, Water Treatment

Contact for PFAS in drinking water questions
734-994-2840
water@a2gov.org

Michigan PFAS Response Action Team | Michigan Environmental Assistance Center

Monday-Friday 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM
800-662-9278

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services | Michigan Eat Safe Fish

800-648-6942
Monday-Friday 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Direct general questions to the Michigan Environmental Assistance Center

800-662-9278, M-F, 8am-4:30pm.

HRWC is keeping a close watch on changing conditions in the watershed, our communities, and in the policies that protect those who live here. We will continue to work with EGLE (formerly MDEQ), the Michigan Environmental Council, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and other partners statewide to reduce PFAS contamination. We will continue to raise awareness as new information becomes available, and hold officials accountable. That said, there is currently no federal or state regulation regarding PFAS contamination in drinking water, and HRWC has no governing authority. Unless a community decides to address contamination through local ordinance, reducing PFAS is voluntary.

To address contamination detected at the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant, we worked with municipal and county officials in the area to understand the scope of the problem and facilitate community meetings on the subject. Tribar, the company in Wixom that was discharging the PFOS and PFOA (types of PFAS), has changed its process and no longer discharges these “long chain” chemicals. Because of this, the PFOS contamination entering the Huron River from Norton Creek has greatly decreased by 99%.

PFAS contamination will remain in the Huron River for the foreseeable future. It remains unclear when it will be resolved because even as existing pollution is flushed from the river and diluted, new and existing sources continue to discharge PFAS into the river. The first step is to stop releasing these chemicals into our environment.

To learn more about PFAS and what you can do to prevent being exposed or using products with PFAS, here a few good resources:

Michigan.gov PFAS Response

The State of Michigan has created a webpage to address common questions about PFAS, its potential health and environmental impacts, and its sources.

Michigan Department of Environmentla Quality (MDEQ) Public Water Supply Information

MDEQ is testing school drinking water for PFAS as a cautionary step. Information on this page summarizes current sampling results from these locations.

Residential Well Testing

Read answers to common questions and learn more about having your private well tested for PFAS.

Ann Arbor PFAS Information from the Water Treatment Department

The City of Ann Arbor has compiled a document of frequently asked questions for residents and visitors to the area.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) PFAS Resources

The EPA provides a wide range of information on PFAS from introductory material to detailed information on health advisory levels and guidelines. To see what other states are doing about PFAS, click here.

Center for Disease Control/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (CDC/ATSDR)

The CDC provides links to health information, exposure, and additional resources.

Michigan Environmental Council: PFAS in Michigan: What We Know and What We Need

MEC provides a digest on the status of PFAS contamination and specific proposed policy solutions in Michigan.