Michigan’s 1st PFAS drinking water standards clear final hurdle

New contaminant limits are strictest in nation

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

After nearly a year of rulemaking debate, Michigan’s very first set of PFAS limits for drinking water passed its last obstacle Wednesday as a panel of state lawmakers allowed them to take effect.

Those rules, which establish maximum contaminant levels for seven toxic contaminants known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are the strictest and most comprehensive limits in the country.

Previously, no PFAS drinking water standards at all existed in Michigan. There remains no national standard for the toxic contaminants, leaving states to take matters into their own hands.

PFAS chemicals are known to be harmful to human health and have been linked to serious diseases including cancer.

Michigan’s first PFAS rules for drinking water move forward

The Environmental Rules Review Committee (ERRC), which oversees all rulemaking with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), approved a draft version of the rules in late February.

After that, the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rulemaking (JCAR) was the last hurdle that the rules needed to clear before taking effect. That committee, chaired by state Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.), heard testimony Wednesday before adjourning without changing or blocking the rules.

That means PFAS standards will take effect on Monday, Aug. 3.

The seven specific PFAS compounds and their recommended maximum contamination levels for drinking water are: PFNA (6 parts per trillion), PFOA (8 ppt), PFOS (16 ppt), PFHxS (51 ppt), GenX (370 ppt), PFBS (420 ppt) and PFHxA (400,000 ppt).

The rules are expected to impact approximately 2,700 water supplies in Michigan, which reach more than 1.9 million Michiganders.

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Enforcement will be done through annual tests on water treatment systems. Households that obtain their water from private wells will not be impacted by the rules.

The new standards will also result in 42 new sites being added into EGLE’s list of PFAS contamination investigations.

The action was hailed by environmental groups, many of which have been long urging the state to take action on the issue.

“Over the past year, Michiganders across the state have advocated for setting the strongest standards for PFAS in the country to protect Michigan communities from these dangerous forever chemicals,” said Bob Allison, deputy director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

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“These rules come at a time when studies show exposure to PFAS chemicals is linked to immune deficiencies that exacerbate the impacts of COVID-19. The standards that take effect today are based on sound science and will make Michigan a national leader on protections against PFAS. We applaud EGLE and Gov. Whitmer for working to protect our drinking water and the health of our communities,” Allison continued.

Cyndi Roper, Michigan senior policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said Wednesday’s action was a great step in the right direction but noted that the rules could have been even stronger.

“With the completion of its yearlong rulemaking process, Michigan is now regulating seven PFAS chemicals — which is more than any other state — and two of the standards are the nation’s most health protective,” Roper said.

She added that although the rules are an “important positive step,” the NRDC’s review of the science shows state regulators “should have gone further to protect public health from PFAS by strengthening the limits for several of the individual PFAS chemicals; establishing a combined limit for the sum of the seven individual PFAS chemicals Michigan chose to regulate as state testing shows they are found in mixtures; and setting a limit for the total amount of all PFAS chemicals allowed in drinking water.”

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, immigration and criminal justice. She is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or listening to podcasts, she loves art and design, discovering new music, being out in nature and spending time with her two cats Rainn and Remy.