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Michigan declares state of emergency in town with high PFOS, PFOA levels in drinking water

Source of perfluorocarbon pollution as yet unknown, state says

by Cheryl Hogue
August 1, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 32


Photo shows people walking near stacks of bottled water that's being offloaded from a truck and police officers in foreground directing cars past the stacks.
Credit: Daniel Vasta/Kalamazoo Gazette via AP
Residents of Parchment, Mich., are getting free bottled drinking water until their pipes are flushed and connected to the Kalamazoo, Mich., water supply.

Michigan has declared a state of emergency in a community of 3,100 people whose drinking water is tainted with high levels of perfluorinated chemicals.

The state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) discovered the contamination July 26 in the city of Parchment in southwestern Michigan. DEQ test results showed water with 1,410 parts per trillion of a combination of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), commercial chemicals that were once widely used but are no longer manufactured in the U.S. PFOS levels in the water were 740 ppt and PFOA concentrations were 670 ppt, DEQ says. The agency found the pollution as part of a state effort launched in May to test all public drinking water supplies in Michigan for 14 perfluorochemicals.

Evidence shows that PFOS and PFOA, which essentially don’t break down in the environment, are linked to a swath of health problems, including cancer, thyroid hormone disruption, and increased cholesterol levels, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Michigan in January adopted 70 ppt as a legally enforceable cleanup level for cleanup of PFOS or PFOA in drinking water. The limit is based on EPA’s 2016 health advisory level for PFOS and PFOA of 70 ppt individually or together. But a draft report the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry released in June says that limits of the substances should be significantly lower to protect health. The report’s numbers translate into drinking water levels of 7 ppt for PFOS and 11 parts per trillion for PFOA.

DEQ found high levels of the two chemicals and detected other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in the groundwater that supplies Parchment, a town named for a paper mill that operated there for nearly a century. DEQ has not determined the source of the chemicals in Parchment’s drinking water.

Michigan is supplying bottled drinking water for the affected residents. Parchment is draining its water supply pipes and flushing them with drinking water from the nearby city of Kalamazoo. Parchment will soon connect to Kalamazoo’s water supply, officials say.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) on July 13 asked Attorney General Bill Schuette to sue 3M, a former manufacturer of PFOS and PFOA, for compensation to pay for cleanup of PFASs from drinking water in the state. In February, Minnesota settled a similar case against St. Paul-based 3M.

Michigan is also suing shoe manufacturer Wolverine World Wide, which formerly disposed of tannery wastes containing PFOS and PFOA in the state.


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