State panel proposes nation’s toughest drinking water limit for 2 toxic chemicals

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A panel of experts put together by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed the nation’s most stringent drinking water limits for two chemicals in a suite of thousands of man-made, toxic substances.

The panel submitted on Thursday its recommendation to the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART), which suggested drinking water limits for a handful of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl, or PFAS, chemicals. The recommendations are well below unenforceable advisory level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

If the Legislature approves the proposals, Michigan would have tougher rules than New Jersey — an example touted by environmental health activists as a state that’s ahead of the curve when it comes to regulating PFAS pollution.

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The Michigan panel — Dr. David Savitz, Kevin Cox and Dr. Jamie DeWittrecommends a threshold of 8 ppt for PFOA and 16 ppt for PFOS, two of the most common PFAS chemicals. They suggested five other drinking water limits: PFNA: 6 ppt; PFHxS: 51 ppt; GenX: 370 ppt; PFBS: 420 ppt; PFHxA: 400,000 ppt.

“Of the seven individual recommendations proposed, two would become the strictest in the nation: PFOA and PFNA. Several are weaker and less protective, which is something we will advocate to strengthen,” said National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Senior Policy Advocate Cyndi Roper in a statement.

The chemicals are linked to certain types of cancer and other health problems and are found in consumer and industrial goods, including nonstick cooking ware, cosmetics and even food.

New Jersey currently has the country’s only state maximum contaminant level for one PFAS: 13 ppt for a substance called PFNA. Other states also are considering limits, including New York and Vermont.

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MPART Executive Director Steve Sliver said the recommendations “put Michigan on a path to potentially having some of the most advanced and far-reaching standards in the nation.”

Sliver said that they are “very close to the handful of other states that have made PFAS contamination a priority and underscores the need for federal leadership on research and standard-setting at a national level.”

Critics have slammed the EPA for delaying setting its own drinking water threshold. A report issued by the panel said that more research and monitoring along with efforts to reduce public exposure also are needed.

This month, Sliver testified before a U.S. House panel and urged Congress to take up a bill from U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) that would compel federal agencies to identify and mitigate possible contamination.

Michigan PFAS expert prods Congress to act

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) will now hold public hearings on the proposed standards, with a final rule expected by April 2020.

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters lauded the proposals.

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“The recommendations from MPART are a solid step toward establishing science-based standards for toxic chemicals in our drinking water,” LCV Executive Director Lisa Wozniak said in a statement. “We urge the Whitmer administration to take these recommendations and continue with an aggressive timeline to rapidly put drinking water protections in place. 

“It is imperative that all Michiganders have safe, clean water to drink.”

A may report from the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group released a report listing Michigan as home to the most known sites of PFAS pollution.

But that is likely due to the state’s aggressive testing program which began under GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder, both the EWG and EGLE spokesman Scott Dean both have said.

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

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