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Protecting People from Toxic PFAS in our Drinking Water and Environment

In an otherwise very difficult year, we are fortunate to be able to highlight some victories related to protecting people from toxic PFAS in our drinking water and environment. We have a lot to celebrate including EGLE’s program to collect PFAS-containing firefighting foams, the adoption of new standards for PFAS in drinking water, the release of our Packaged in Pollution report, and the introduction of coinciding legislation to phase out PFAS-containing food packaging in Michigan. 

In December 2019, the state began collecting PFAS-containing firefighting foam, known as Class B aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), from fire departments and commercial airports across Michigan. The program, which was originally installed as a fixed-term project, collects liquid AFFF from local fire departments and transports it to a licensed hazardous waste facility in Idaho to be solidified and properly disposed of on-site. This summer, the $1.4 million effort surpassed 30,000 gallons of the toxic foam collected and was made permanent by the adoption of House Bill 4389 - which the Ecology Center testified for and worked with lawmakers to strengthen. The bill, signed into law by Governor Whitmer in July, made the firefighting foam takeback program permanent, and instituted a requirement for chiefs of organized fire departments in Michigan to submit an incident report within 48 hours of using PFAS-containing foam. This bill helps fire departments safely dispose of these toxic foams. 

This summer, Michigan also adopted new maximum contaminant level (MCL) standards for PFAS chemicals in drinking water. The new MCLs, which the Ecology Center helped develop and submitted public comments on, are: PFNA: 6ppt, PFOA: 8ppt, PFOS: 16ppt, PFHxS: 51ppt, GenX: 370ppt, PFBS: 420ppt, and PFHxA: 400,000ppt. Two of those limits--PFOA and PFNA-- are the lowest in the country. These newly regulated PFAS chemicals are found at some level in public water systems serving about 1.9 million Michiganders. The new standards will add 42 sites to the state’s portfolio of ongoing PFAS investigations. While there is still plenty of work to be done to fully understand, contain, and remedy the PFAS crisis in Michigan, the Ecology Center is happy with these changes and sees these new standards as a step in the right direction. 

Most recently, the Ecology Center made headlines with the release of the Packaged in Pollution report. The Ecology Center, the Mind the Store campaign, Toxic-Free Future, and its partners found that nearly half of all take-out food packaging tested contains potentially toxic chemicals. Food packaging was collected and tested from multiple popular national food chains, including top fast-food and health-minded food chains. In response to the study, Mediterranean-style health-minded food chain Cava announced it will eliminate PFAS from its food packaging by mid-2021. Sweetgreen also recently announced it is phasing out PFAS from its bowls by the end of 2020 and has already introduced PFAS-free bowls in one market. 

Coinciding with the release of this report is the introduction of Senate Bill 1072 by Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor). The Ecology Center worked with Senator Irwin to craft legislation that will phase out the use of PFAS-containing food packaging in Michigan. Senator Irwin’s press release about the pending legislation cites the Packaged in Pollution report and states that the bill will ban toxic PFAS, BPA, and phthalate “forever chemicals” from manufacturing and sale of food packaging in Michigan. The Ecology Center is excited to support this bill as yet another step towards eliminating harmful chemicals in our state. 

In addition to working with Senator Irwin on his bill, the Ecology Center is working to educate state legislative candidates on PFAS and how to mitigate and remediate its impacts. These efforts include a new PFAS action guide for candidates available on our website. The action guide provides educational information on the sources and harmful health effects of PFAS, as well as helpful information about what can be done to address PFAS in Michigan. 

The Ecology Center and its partners are excited to see their hard work materialize into successful initiatives across the state. We are eager to continue our efforts addressing PFAS contamination in Michigan. From safer hamburger wrappers, to cleaner drinking water, to non-toxic firefighting foams, we are happy with these progress being made in our state for healthier people and a healthier planet.