PFAS is getting a lot of attention in Michigan and in the Huron River watershed. We know that PFAS is a group of toxic chemicals and that it’s prevalent in the environment. We also know that it is being used in hundreds of everyday products that most of us use. It has been confirmed at a number of sites across the state. And it has been found in the Huron River. There is a state-led initiative to test drinking water from all schools that use well water and community water supplies for PFAS. Michigan’s fire service community is investigating fire suppression foam and determining safe disposal approaches. And in the Huron River watershed, adding to on-going water testing by the City of Ann Arbor since 2014, state agencies are conducting surface water testing and fish sampling at a number of sites on the river.
There is also a lot of uncertainty about PFAS. While we know that it has bad health effects on humans, we don’t know for sure at what levels. It has been found in the Huron River, but we don’t know where it came from and if we can clean it up.
All of this uncertainty puts us in a research mode. We need more answers. HRWC is working to get those answers and we want you to know what we know—and what questions we are asking. The details below will give you some background and list our current questions as we explore this issue further.
About PFAS: PFAS is a group of chemicals (technical names: Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, including sub-catergories such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)). These chemicals have been used worldwide during the past century in manufacturing, firefighting, and common household products–including Teflon, Gore-Tex, plastics, water-proofing products, lotions, and body care products. They are chemicals that are used virtually everywhere. And they are now polluting our lakes, rivers, and groundwater throughout Michigan and around the country.
What is happening in the Huron River?
The Huron River is the main source of drinking water for the City of Ann Arbor. A few years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began requiring large drinking water utilities to test for a host of emerging contaminants, including PFAS. (The official name for the program is the third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 3)). The City of Ann Arbor began testing its drinking water for these pollutants in March 2014. The tests examined both the “raw water” (source water) and treated drinking water. Approximately 85% of Ann Arbor’s source water comes from the Huron River. The remaining 15% comes from multiple wells located south of the City.
The most important thing to say about Ann Arbor drinking water is that it tested well below the current standard for PFAS.
The EPA set a lifetime health advisory (LHA) level for some types of PFAS in drinking water at 70 parts per trillion. The State of Michigan has adopted the EPA’s standard. The highest level of PFAS detected in drinking water samples was collected in 2014 at 43 ppt. Last year, the highest level of PFAS detected in the City’s finished drinking water was even lower at 15 ppt. This year’s test results indicate that PFOS/PFOA levels in the city’s drinking water are 4 ppt, well below the current health advisory level of 70 ppt.
The City of Ann Arbor continues to test both finished drinking water and the river source water for PFAS on a monthly basis. Regular updates are provided to the public (see link below). The City is also experimenting with methods for removing PFAS in the drinking water treatment process using granular activated carbon (GAC).
Currently, granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration is the best available technology for removing PFAS in drinking water. The city of Ann Arbor has GAC filters, and has been proactive in piloting a new type of carbon in several of its filters since November 2017. Due to this success, City staff are proposing to replace all of the older carbon in the city’s filters with the new type of carbon. It is estimated that the additional cost to replace the GAC in the filters will be $850,000 in fiscal year 2019.
The State of Michigan’s PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) has information for Michigan residents concerned about PFAS in drinking water, with the Michigan Environmental Assistance Center identified as a point of contact for questions, 800-662-9278, M-F, 8am-4:30pm. County health departments are also developing information.
Fish: There is reason to be concerned about PFAS levels in fish. On August 4, 2018, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued a ‘do not eat fish’ consumption advisory for parts of the Huron River. Fish tested in parts of the Huron had high levels of PFAS. The advisory was “Do Not Eat” fish because of PFAS. The advisory was updated August 31, 2018 to include all fish in the Huron River in Livingston, Oakland, Washtenaw, Wayne, and Monroe Counties, starting where N. Wixom Road crosses the river and extending downstream to the mouth of the river as it enters Lake Erie.
State Actions: The State of Michigan started the PFAS Action Response Team (MPART), a multi-agency action team, in 2017 to address the PFAS issue. This summer the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) conducted surface water testing at approximately 15 sites throughout the watershed trying to identify a source of PFAS in the Huron River. Additionally, the MDHHS is collecting and analyzing fish samples. More broadly, MDEQ has also begun testing drinking water from all schools that use well water and community water supplies for PFAS—the status of sampling completion is posted at the MPART website.
Important Uncertainty: It is good news that tests show acceptable PFAS levels in Ann Arbor’s drinking water, but one uncertainty is the quality of the EPA’s LHA level. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has suggested that the 70 ppt standard should be lowered to 10 ppt. As pervasive as PFAS is in consumer products and the environment, the fact is that we still do not know as much as we should about its long-term health effects. For residents on private wells, contacts at the Washtenaw County Health Department are working with counterparts in Livingston and Oakland on developing information.
Our Questions: As the City and State act to protect our water from PFAS, HRWC is seeking answers to the following questions.
- What is the extent of PFAS in the environment, where is it coming from, and how can we clean it up? We hope that the State’s testing of several sites on the Huron will give us answers.
- Is the current EPA LHA level of 70 ppt actually protective of human health? The CDC report from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) raises concerns that there may be inadequate regulation of these chemicals. HRWC wants to see rigorous and transparent investigation of these standards.
To learn more about PFAS and what you can do to prevent being exposed or using products with PFAS, here a few good resources:
- PFAS Response
- Public Water Supply Information
- Ann Arbor Municipal Water Treatment Plant
- Residential Well Testing
- Water Treatment Department
- Information about perfluorinated compounds (PFOA/PFOS)
- Water Quality Report 2017
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.
Washtenaw County Health Department posted a number on their Facebook page to reach Environmental Health staff at 734-222-3800.
Concerned residents can also contact the State’s Environmental Assistance Center at 800-662-9278.
If you have additional questions or concerns about PFAS in the Huron River contact Laura Rubin at firstname.lastname@example.org