Governor's Independent Science Panel Shares Findings on PFAS

For Immediate Release
December 18, 2018

Contacts:
DEQ Media Office, deq-assist@michigan.gov, 517-284-9278

LANSING, Mich -- The Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) today published the findings of the independent PFAS Science Advisory Committee (Panel) appointed earlier this year by Governor Rick Snyder.

The panel of nationally recognized experts on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) was created by the Governor to provide the state with a better understanding of the available toxicological and environmental health science on PFAS and provide evidence-based recommendations that can guide Michigan’s ongoing response to this emerging class of contaminants.

“Michigan remains committed to being a leader in the proactive response to PFAS contamination and protecting the public from this emerging class of contaminants,” Snyder said. “I believe the science-based recommendations in this independent report will guide the incoming administration and Legislature on the best regulatory policy moving forward. With additional federal guidance, Michigan can help chart a pathway to protect the health and well-being of our residents and people across the nation.” 

PFAS compounds are a group of potentially harmful contaminants used in thousands of applications globally including firefighting foam, food packaging, and many other consumer products. These compounds have been used by industries such as tanneries, metal platers, and clothing manufacturers.

Developed over the past six months, the 99-page report outlines 17 recommendations to the state in its ongoing response to PFAS contamination.  The recommendations include affirmation of key actions that the state is undertaking, like the identification of drinking water supplies containing high levels of PFAS and public health assessments while providing guidance on specific additional actions that the state could also consider.  The report further suggests several actions for additional study that would benefit not only Michigan, but the nation in addressing PFAS contamination and understanding the consequences to human health.

“Although our public water sampling effort is nearing completion and the results are showing that PFAS is not present in significant concentrations in more than 97 percent of our public drinking water systems, the recommendations in the independent Panel’s report show that the state’s proactive response PFAS is appropriate,” said MPART director Carol Isaacs. “The report will also provide an invaluable road map to lawmakers and state environmental and health professionals as they continue the state’s mission of protecting the environment and public health.” 

Dr. David Savitz, professor of epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health, chaired the six-member Panel.

“The Panel found evidence that exposure to certain PFAS compounds and health outcomes is likely to affect some health outcomes, but also concluded that further research is needed,” Savitz said. “Of these compounds, the report focuses on perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanoic sulfonate (PFOS) for which we have the most information.”

The Panel was also asked to review the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s Lifetime Health Advisory Level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS combined in drinking water that Michigan currently uses as its groundwater clean-up criteria.

“If one accepts the probable links between PFOA exposure and adverse health effects detected in the epidemiological literature as critical effects for health risk assessment, then 70 ppt in drinking water might not be sufficiently protective for PFOA, and possibly by extrapolation to PFOS,” the report notes. “Based on the available evidence for PFOA, in particular, the combined evidence from toxicology and epidemiology the Panel concludes that the research supports the potential for health effects resulting from long-term exposure to drinking water with concentrations below 70 ppt.”  

To address this issue, the report makes an additional seven recommendations for further research and monitoring to address these information gaps.

“Michigan leadership should be commended for their efforts to address environmental and health concerns with PFAS conscientiously by developing policies that do justice to the current state of knowledge,” the report concludes.  “The questions posed to the Panel are the appropriate for drawing out the information needed to make sound, evidence-based policy decisions.  However, by asking these pointed, critical questions, they have also obligated us to reveal how far short the scientific evidence is in providing clear answers to many of them.” 

Isaacs praised the Panel for their evidence-based approach to the report.

“While the Panel did not make specific recommendations on PFAS exposure levels, they did provide general guidance that will help the state move forward with an examination of standards for PFAS beyond the current standards for PFOS and PFOA, Isaacs said. “With the receipt of this independent, science-driven report, Michigan can move quickly in 2019 to review the report and determine what new and enforceable standards the state should consider.”

“While this policy discussion happens, MPART will continue to move aggressively on all fronts to drive down exposure risks to Michigan residents,” Isaacs added. “Working with local health authorities, we will continue to advocate alternative water or enhanced water treatment for communities with unusual levels of any PFAS contamination even when below 70 ppt.” 

The full Science Advisory Panel report can be downloaded from the MPART web site at www.michigan.gov/PFASresponse.