Editor’s note:  HRWC is currently conducting a survey about water. Participants are asking some great questions, with many centering on Tribar and PFAS, and why the company is still allowed to operate. This blog will hopefully answer some of these questions.

State Permit Fails to Protect the Huron River From PFAS

On November 1, 2022, the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) issued a new wastewater permit to the City of Wixom. The permit fails to significantly reduce PFAS contamination to the Huron River. While the permit improves some aspects of monitoring and puts in place some additional safeguards, it allows Tribar Technologies to continue discharging PFAS and other contamination through the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Tribar Technologies is the company that polluted the river with PFAS, released a large volume of hexavalent chromium to the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant in August, and is a major source of the PFAS sludge that was spread on farm fields across southeast Michigan as fertilizer for decades. This polluter has had numerous prior violations.

Wixom’s new permit will run through Oct. 1, 2027. Many groups throughout the Huron River watershed, including HRWC and the City of Ann Arbor, had been keeping an eye on this permit application since it will directly impact Ann Arbor’s treatment of their drinking water from the Huron River, which is downstream of Wixom. Ryan Stanton of MLive wrote up a great summary of the permit. Access it here.

The City of Ann Arbor justifiably argued for improvements to the permit and provided comments on the draft permit to EGLE. HRWC provided comment as well on an earlier version of the permit. While EGLE incorporated some of the requests for additional rigor, the final permit language reflects little more than the bare minimum of Tribar and Wixom for dealing with wastewater from their facilities. Wixom also has until 2025 to comply with the permit. It effectively means Tribar is still a risk to the Huron River and Ann Arbor residents will have to bear the cost of treating their drinking water for Tribar’s pollution. EGLE asserts it is acting to the full extent supported by current regulations.

Here is why this is problematic:

  • EGLE is issuing a permit for PFAS in discharge from a wastewater treatment plant which has its own set of regulations. These regulations do not consider that the discharge occurs upstream of a drinking water source which has more and stricter standards. Not acknowledging the connectivity of water systems leaves us unnecessarily vulnerable to public health impacts.
  • EGLE is issuing a permit for standards that have already been deemed not protective enough. For example, the EPA recently released health advisory levels that indicate two specific PFAS chemicals — PFOS and PFOA,– are more than 1000 times more toxic than previously believed when Michigan set their drinking water standards. The lag time between evidence of harm and the setting of safe standards is unacceptably slow.
  • Finally, the standard two-year runway given to facilities to make infrastructure upgrades to reach permitted discharge levels is insufficient in cases where the public health risks associated with a contaminant are known and severe.

A common assertion of environmental and public health advocates is that state environmental protections are weak and that the profits of polluters are prioritized over public health. This permit shows this in action. Further, most residents would rationally assume that if a polluter can’t make improvements to comply with state regulation, the state would require them to make those improvements to their systems before they continue operations. Current laws and regulations are not set up this way.

As a community, we need to advocate for change. We need lawmakers to give EGLE more authority and capacity to adequately address contaminants, we need to apply pressure on our agencies to use the full weight of that authority, and we need to put the burden on polluters, not those suffering from pollution. HRWC will continue our advocacy to close the gap between regulations and public and ecosystem health.

To help, ask your State legislative representatives to support polluter pay laws.

• Go here and follow the guidelines for the first Take-Action item.
• Find your State Representative https://www.house.mi.gov/#findarepresentative
• Find your Michigan State Senator. https://www.senate.michigan.gov/fysbyaddress.html

For more information on PFAS:

Recent news (2/8/23): PFAS Detected at Hamburg Wastewater Treatment Plant (blog)

EPA Warns PFAS Are Far More Dangerous than Previously Thought

Concerning PFAS Levels Found on Livingston County Cattle Farm

Do Not Eat Fish Advisory Relaxed for Lowest Parts of Huron River

Our webpage on PFAS and the Huron River

January 26, 2023 Civic Center TV Radio Interview: