Michigan is once again grappling with water issues following a warning issued to two communities over dangerously high levels of industrial chemicals found in their drinking source.
Residents of two Kalamazoo County communities will receive bottled water on Friday morning after “high amounts” of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, were detected during testing conducted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). A PFAS test yielded 1,410 parts per trillion in their drinking water, 20 times higher than the lifetime health advisory given by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
A recently released study, however, from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the EPA found that the health advisory should likely be far lower.
The State Emergency Operations Center have been activated, according to the Detroit News. State officials including the department of Environmental Quality, Health and Human Services, the police, and the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team are all on alert.
In a news release circulated Thursday, the 3,000 residents of Parchment and Cooper Township were warned to “immediately stop using their water for drinking, cooking, making baby formula and food, or rinsing fruits and vegetables.” While touching the water is not a serious source of concern, residents were cautioned that boiling it would not remove PFAS, nor would filters.
“We ask for residents on the City of Parchment’s water supply, which includes Cooper Township, to help spread this message to your neighbors,” the release continued.
City officials said they were unsure how the man-made chemicals entered the water source. PFAS can lead to severe health ramifications, impacting the immune system and increasing the risk of cancer and liver disease, among other hazards. The chemicals are found in a range of items, including non-stick pans and foam used by firefighters.
Parchment’s water source will be drained over the course of the next two days, after which point residents will be connected to Kalamazoo’s water supply. Bottled water will be handed out at Parchment High School during the day. Local publications indicated that other distribution days were likely and that the advisory is currently indefinite. It is unclear how long the water may have been contaminated before officials became aware of the issue.
Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said in a statement that the health of residents would be prioritized in addition to ensuring their access to drinking water.
“Our next step is to work as a team to address the source of this contamination and restore the municipal water system,” Snyder said.
Reacting to the news, Rep. Fred Upton (R) posted a Facebook statement on Thursday and said he would be meeting with state and local officials to mount a response. Upton represents the area and has called on the Trump administration to crack down on PFAS.
“Immediate [sic] need is to get to the bottom of this and ensure folks have safe drinking water in the meantime,” Upton wrote.
Michigan has struggled with water issues for several years, most infamously in the case of the city of Flint, where 100,000 residents were exposed to lead in their drinking source. The fallout from that crisis remains ongoing and the city is still without reliably potable water.
Controversy over PFAS has also swirled in and out of the news in recent months. While the dangers posed by the chemicals have been known for some time, documents obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) this spring found that under the Trump administration a number of agencies, including the EPA, sought to suppress a Health Department PFAS chemical study in January.
The study, which was ultimately released, found that the EPA’s non-enforceable health advisory level for PFAS should be seven times lower than the recommended level.
Earlier this week, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection issued consumption limits for fish found in around a dozen bodies of water over PFAS concerns. Alabama, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have all put forward similar drafts or finalized such limits. Pennsylvania is also grappling with severe PFAS contamination. Community leaders and lawmakers from that state have urged the EPA to issue new health standards for PFAS.