Environmental Working Group releases report about PFAS in drinking water

Thursday, September 12, 2019 - 2:14pm

Ann Arbor residents are worried about the PFAS contamination in Washtenaw County.

Ann Arbor residents are worried about the PFAS contamination in Washtenaw County. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Drinking water supplies at 108 Army and Army National Guard installations are contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, according to a report released by the Environmental Working Group on Wednesday. 

 

Contaminated sites include Grand Ledge Army Aviation Support and Jackson Readiness Center in Michigan. The report added 90 installations to the existing 18 which were known to have contamination.

PFAS are a wide variety of chemicals produced by manufacturing, industrial and agricultural processes. In Michigan and some other states across the country, PFAS is a growing threat to drinking water. Ann Arbor residents have become increasingly concerned with the levels of PFAS contamination in Washtenaw County, especially in the Huron River. Last May, the city launched a transparency initiative to detail updates on water quality. 

The EGW’s data was obtained from the Department of Defense under the Freedom of Information Act. Since 2016, the total number of current and former contaminated military installations rose from 207 to 297. The report detailed the negative effects of PFAS chemicals and their reach across the U.S.

“Low doses of PFAS chemicals have been linked to cancer, harm to the reproductive and immune systems, thyroid disease and other health problems,” the report said. 

“The chemicals have been detected in the drinking water of 19 million Americans in 49 states, and unreleased EPA data show that up to 110 million people may have PFAS-contaminated drinking water.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, released a statement on Wednesday in response to the report.

“PFAS is a serious national health problem and every day we find more and more of our nation’s service members are being exposed to PFAS,” she said. “The Environmental Working Group is doing valuable work to expose the extent of the contamination. We must be serious about identifying contamination, cleaning it up, and preventing further contaminations and dangers going forward.” 

Dingell said the Department of Defense must stay transparent and be held accountable in its role in PFAS contamination. She mentioned the National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed by the house in July. It includes three amendments by Dingell addressing PFAS. 

“The House passed a strong National Defense Authorization bill that included a number of my amendments that will help clean up the nearly 300 military sites identified with PFAS contamination — including designating PFAS as hazardous. With the EWG’s new findings, it’s even more critical that PFAS provisions in NDAA make it into the final bill,” Dingell’s statement reads. 

The amendments added by Dingell designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances in order to qualify them for clean up under the EPA’s superfund program. The amendments also ban the use of PFAS materials to produce ready-to-eat meals, or MREs, consumed by servicemen and women in training and require that military bases cooperate with state regulation if PFAS contamination is detected near the installation. 

LSA senior Sophia Simon, an Ann Arbor native, emphasized the importance of protecting and preserving our natural resources. She believes that the University has a part to play in educating students about local environmental issues, as well as preserving sustainable practices. 

“I grew up near the Huron River and have been swimming in it for years, but PFAS contamination poses a big threat to the river water quality,” Simon said. “The University should invest in keeping our river clean, because it’s such a beautiful and important part of Ann Arbor.” 

LSA junior Kellee Byard, who is enrolled in the University’s Program in the Environment, called for urgent action against PFAS contamination. 

“I think this issue is vital for both local and regional administrations to act urgently and aggressively, because PFAS affects drinking water and also resides in the environment,” she said. “This is harming humans and organisms within nature, overall creating unhealthy ecosystems resulting in a slew of health risks. We must stop the production of contaminants that ultimately end up in our water.”