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Kalamazoo County residents and local leaders tell EPA to fix PFAs issue now

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Tammy Cooper was one of the few Kalamazoo County residents invited to the EPA’s roundtable discussion Friday afternoon. She told the Environmental Protection Agency that Parchment, where she lives, has had one town hall meeting about the PFAs issue since it was discovered in their water system in late July.

“There was a comment by a member of the DEQ, I believe a toxicologist, and I’m sure it was unfortunate wording but he talked about a health study and used the phrase 'certainly not everyone is going to get cancer from it,’” Cooper recalled. “That is very little solace to the families of those obviously affected by cancer.”

Cooper was among the two dozen local leaders, state officials, and community activists who told the EPA about their on-going concerns and health worries regarding PFAs, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in their water system.

“Now the bigger question is is there’s 88,000 chemicals in our society today in the United States that we do not regulate yet we say our water is safe,” said Cody Angell of the Demand Action organization. “PFAs is an unregulated contaminant.”

Over the summer, PFAs were found in several towns throughout southwest Michigan. In Parchment, a ban on the drinking water was issued on July 26 after high levels of the contaminant were found in the city’s water system and in a few private wells in neighboring Cooper and Richland Townships. Officials had given away 30,000 cases of free bottled water in the weeks following. And in late August, after flushing the city’s water system using Kalamazoo city’s water, the ban was lifted. However residents said they were still scared to drink it.

“They really would like to be able to use the water that's at their home,” said State Senator Margaret O’Brien who was consistently at Parchment High School handing out bottled water cases to residents. "So there is a sense of frustration. They do appreciate how hard everyone’s working but we got to get this done sooner than later and funding is our number one problem.”

Angell suggested to the EPA that a fund be set up to help investigate the issue and how to best clean up the water. Other attendees suggested having residents blood tested considering PFAs can remain in the body for years.

“I think the important thing for us to keep in mind is the EPA is in fact taking great deal of action right now on PFAs,” said Peter Grevatt, director of the EPA’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water. “I think you’re also aware of the national monitoring effort we put in place, the unregulated contaminant monitoring rule.”

Grevatt said that through that effort they sampled 80 percent of the country’s “population served by community water supplies.” And since then, they’ve been doing research on analytical techniques, treatment technologies and on best communication practices.

Residents present at Friday’s roundtable wondered why the meeting wasn’t open it the public.

“We have been traveling around the country to meet with impacted communities and local residents," Grevatt said during an interview. "We’re balancing the desire to be with multiple communities across the country with the need to move forward with their management plan."

Grevatt said the EPA was working on that plan. Through an open docket, his office received close to 120,000 public comments about PFAs and PFOAs. He’s now taking that information and using it to help create a management plan.

Residents said they hope a plan is implemented soon. People are sick, they said. And funding is needed now.

“We don’t know the extent of the problem but I would consider it similar to having a sick child,” Tammy Cooper said. “You would not wait ’til you had all the answers. You would not wait until you had the funding. You would act because it needs to be acted upon to save lives.”

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