LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan regulators on Tuesday set a state threshold for chemicals that were once widely used and are being found in drinking water, a move they said will let them issue violation notices and take legal action if needed.
The announcement is the latest as Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration scrambles to combat potential health risks in tap water that stem from the chemicals used in firefighting, waterproofing, carpeting and other products.
The combined standard for perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid is 70 parts per trillion.
That mirrors a federal advisory level set in 2016.
“This new standard allows us to take regulatory enforcement actions, something we have not been able to do absent a state criterion,” Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Heidi Grether said in a statement. “This means we will now have tools to mandate a responsible party conduct activities to address PFOA and PFOS contamination, thereby reducing risk to human health and the environment.”
The expectation is that parties will voluntarily comply with clean up criteria, she said.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been detected at military bases, water treatment plants and, most recently, an old industrial dump site for footwear company Wolverine World Wide. The contaminants, classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as “emerging” nationally, have sparked enough concern that Snyder in November created a state response team and last month enacted $23 million in emergency spending passed by the Legislature.
The chemicals were used in scores of industrial applications and have been detected in human and animal blood around the world. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said scientists are uncertain about how they affect human health at exposure levels typically found in food and water. But some studies suggest the chemicals might affect fetal development, disrupt hormonal functions, damage fertility and immune systems, and boost the risk of cancer.
At least 1,000 homes with private wells in the Plainfield Township area north of Grand Rapids, near where Wolverine dumped hazardous waste decades ago, have been tested for PFAS contamination in recent months.
Also Tuesday, Snyder announced the creation of two advisory committees to the response team.
One, to be led by Dr. David Savitz of Brown University, will review the science and make recommendations within six months — including potentially a stricter state PFAS standard. Democrats are proposing legislation to establish a 5 parts per trillion limit, which would be the country’s toughest guidelines.
The other advisory committee will focus on the public health impact of the contamination and be led by Dr. Eden Wells, Michigan’s chief medical executive.
She has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice and lying to an investigator as part of a criminal investigation of Flint’s water crisis, but Snyder has stood behind her. In November, he appointed her to lead a new Public Health Advisory Council.