An emerging new water crisis for Michigan
Michigan residents are staring down a new water crisis as the state is scrambling to combat potential health risks in water sources that stem from chemicals long used in firefighting, waterproofing, carpeting and other products.
In December of 2017, toxic chemicals have been identified at 28 sites in 14 communities across Michigan. Nearly half are on or near military installations where the source is believed to be from firefighting foam.” (Source) The main affected area is near Van Etten Lake. Other areas near WAFB are also being investigated.
“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 Environmental Protection Agency classifies them as ’emerging’ nationally. They have sparked enough concern that Gov. Rick Snyder created a state response team and approved $23 million in emergency spending.
What We Know So Far
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says private well testing results coupled with a site history that indicates not only that sludge was used as fertilizer, but there may also have been waste dumping in a nearby gravel pit necessitates the well testing. (Source)
Levels of PFOA and PFOS in the groundwater at Wurtsmith Air Force Base (WAFB) in Oscoda Township, Michigan are up to 10,000 times higher than the LTHA.
- Groundwater with high levels of PFAS might be moving off-base toward local resident’s drinking water wells.
- We know that the PFAS from WAFB are found at low levels in some private drinking water wells. We don’t know if the PFAS in the drinking water wells will stay at low levels. Also, we do not know how long PFAS may have been in the drinking water wells.
What are PFAS?
PFAS (sometimes known as perfluorinated chemicals or PFCs) are a group of toxic carcinogenic chemicals that are fire resistant and repel oil, stain, grease, and water. PFAS are used in fire-fighting foams, nonstick cookware, fast food wrappers, as well as in industry and manufacturing.
Studies in people who were exposed to PFAS found links between the chemicals and increased cholesterol, changes in the body’s hormones and immune system, decreased fertility, and increased risk of certain cancers. Animals who were given high levels of PFAS showed changes to the thyroid, liver, and immune system, and harmful effects in fetal and newborn animals. Animal studies help scientists understand what could happen to people.
Officials have notified residents who are directly affected by the PFAS contamination in their wells so that tests can be performed on the water. As well, officials are warning all residents who are affected not to use their well water for drinking, cooking, making baby formula or food, or washing fruits and vegetables. Touching the water will not be harmful so bathing, doing household duties like dishwashing and laundry will be safe to do with the water.
What is being done about this issue?
Currently, those affected by the toxic water sources have been notified and are sending their water in for testing. Affected well owners should purchase bottled water, water filtration systems, or get assistance with municipal water hookup.The Health and Human Services in the area will continue to evaluate drinking water data as it is collected and will notify well owners of their drinking water results and any recommendation.
There are 18 labs across the country that are U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved to test for PFAS using EPA protocol 537 that provide commercial services. That said, none of these labs are located in Michigan.