Contaminate Detected in Lapeer Wastewater and Sewage System; Results not reflective of drinking water system

Contact: Mel Brown, MDEQ, brownm45@michigan.gov, 800-662-9278
Agency: Environmental Quality

October 4, 2017

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Water Resources Division has been tracking elevated per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) concentrations found in surface water samples taken from the Flint River and its tributaries, including the South Branch of the Flint River.  These detections are only within the Lapeer wastewater and sewage system and are not reflective of the drinking water system provided by the Great Lakes Water Authority which has its intake from Lake Huron. Samples collected from the Lapeer Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) and subsequent samples collected within Lapeer’s sewage collection system indicates an electroplating facility (facility) located within the City of Lapeer is a significant source of the PFAS detected at the WWTP and in the Flint River.  

PFAS are a class of man-made chemicals that are used in many industrial applications and consumer products including fire-fighting foams, water proof membranes for outdoor gear, paints and coatings, and non-stick cookware.  In the electroplating industry, the PFAS compound, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), was initially approved as one method to control air emissions.  Later, once the persistent nature and potential health effects of PFOS were identified, manufacturing of PFOS in the United States ceased and the use of PFOS in the chromium electroplating process was phased out by federal regulations in September of 2015. 

In surface waters, PFOS is regulated at very low concentrations (nanograms per liter or parts per trillion) because it becomes concentrated  in fish and wildlife.  The 2011 discovery of elevated levels of PFAS in fish from waters near the retired Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda prompted the MDEQ to conduct a limited statewide survey of select rivers in Michigan.  Fish and water samples taken from the Flint River in 2013 and 2014 were found to have higher concentrations of PFOS compared to most of the other rivers sampled during those years.  The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) provided an update in the Spring 2015 release of the “Eat Safe Fish Guide” to include a fish consumption advisory due to PFOS in the Flint River downstream of the Mott Dam.  Updated fish consumption advice to include the entire Flint River will be included in the next “Eat Safe Fish Guide,” which will be released in Spring 2018.

The river is safe for general recreation, but anglers should follow the fish consumption advice provided by the MDHHS.

The MDEQ continues to investigate the situation and is actively working with both the Lapeer WWTP and the facility, who has been cooperating fully, to determine the source of the PFOS and eliminate it.  The City of Lapeer has taken steps to enforce their industrial pretreatment program and eliminate the discharge to their treatment system.  The MDEQ is working closely with the City of Lapeer to determine necessary further actions.   

The MDEQ will be continuing to investigate potential sources of PFAs statewide to ensure that waters of the state are protected from this emerging pollutant.

The MDHHS fish consumption guide and additional information on PFASs can be found at the following websites: