The drinking water of the Great Lakes State is, once again, in danger. While the citizens of Flint are still combating the presence of lead in their water, another lesser known chemical, PFAS also threatens the purity of Michigan’s most abundant natural resource.
The Michigan Daily Editorial Board calls upon the Ann Arbor City Council and the state of Michigan to take more affirmative steps to inform the Ann Arbor community of the dangers of PFAS, mitigate the damage that has been done and implement strategies to protect citizens from further harm.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the growing threat posed by PFAS is the fact that it is a relatively unknown danger. PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, encompass a wide family of chemicals that are used in industrial, agricultural and manufacturing processes. PFAS can be found in many everyday objects and goods, including commercial household products, drinking water near contaminating facilities and organisms like fish that live in contaminated water sources. Because the PFAS family of chemicals does not naturally occur, they take years to decompose. Consequently, the buildup of PFAS in the body can cause devastating health effects.
While PFAS is a growing danger for all who work, live and play around Michigan’s waters, the efforts to alert the public to the potential hazards of PFAS exposure have been minimal. Though signs do warn residents against drinking the foam buildup in the Huron River, little has been done to make citizens aware of the existence of PFAS in the water supply and the potential harm of overexposure. The state of Michigan’s website does have a “Frequently Asked Questions” page about PFAS, but the answers downplay the severity of the issue. This lack of information stands in contrast to the way a public health crisis should be handled.
As a result, many affected residents are unaware of the danger they are in. Not only does the city of Ann Arbor need more information, less affluent cities in northern Michigan require assistance and attention. So far, the state — and country — have put profitable companies before residents’ health and passed lax regulations regarding water safety. This is especially true in areas that do not have the money in their city budgets to challenge the companies responsible for pollution or decontaminate the water supply themselves.
The lack of information circulating about PFAS is exacerbated by weak federal standards regulating the chemicals. The absence of national benchmarks (aside from unenforceable recommendations) means Ann Arbor is completely reliant on its City Council and state government for spreading information, enforcing protection mechanisms and conducting damage control where necessary.
Adept Plastic Finishing, Inc., an industrial plant in Wixom, plans to install a filter to reduce PFAS contamination in the Huron River. To compensate for Environmental Protection Agency standards, Adept Plastic Finishing developed its own filter and will enforce its own regulations. In a perfect world, all PFAS-emitting companies would follow the example set by Adept Plastic Finishing. However, until business interests stop being prioritized over clean drinking water and the health of Michigan residents, regulatory legislation is necessary to protect Michigan’s water supply.
The Michigan Daily Editorial Board urges the Ann Arbor City Council to inform and protect its citizens from the dangers of PFAS and contaminated drinking water. At the same time, we urge the state of Michigan and the federal government to be more proactive and to prioritize environmental health over corporate bottom lines. Without action, this pattern will become debilitating— much like the PFAS in our water.