Surface waters are lakes,
streams, wetlands, county
drains, or roadside ditches
that drain to lakes, streams,
etc.

Diagram of PFAS Water Cycle

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is responsible for protecting the public health and the environment by regulating discharges of wastewater to Michigan’s surface waters.  Anyone discharging wastewater into the surface waters of the state is required by law to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.  The NPDES program regulates municipalities and industries that discharge directly into lakes, and streams by limiting pollutants and requiring other protections. 

EGLE is undertaking several efforts to address PFAS in surface waters, including monitoring municipal and industrial discharges, implementing the Industrial Pretreatment Program (IPP) PFAS Initiative, and monitoring lakes and streams.

Learn more about EGLE's PFAS sampling of lakes and streams.


Wastewater Discharged Directly into Lakes and Streams

Updated: June 30, 3030

EGLE’s Water Resources Division (WRD) has added PFAS sampling into routine NPDES permit compliance sampling inspections to further understand the prevalence of PFAS in wastewaters of Michigan.  Since 2017, EGLE has sampled 45 municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTPs) and 28 industrial dischargers (industries including airports, landfills, paper plants, and groundwater clean-up sites for other contaminants) for a total of 107 samples collected.

Industrial Discharges to Wastewater Treatment Plants

Many industries discharge to municipal WWTPs rather than discharge directly to surface waters.  Municipal WWTPs often regulate their industrial users through the IPP required by their NPDES permit.  The IPPs provide the basis for WWTPs to regulate industries so industrial pollutants do not interfere with treatment processes or pass through to our lakes and streams.  IPPs may require industries to pretreat wastewater or otherwise reduce or eliminate harmful pollutants.  The IPP is a federally mandated program and a core part of the federal Clean Water Act. For more information about IPP, see Michigan's Industrial Pretreatment Program web page.

Municipal WWTPs major sources of PFOS and PFOA come from industries that have used PFAS-containing chemicals (such as chrome platers and paper manufacturers) and industrial users that may have accepted wastes that used PFAS-containing chemicals in their processes and/or products (such as landfills and centralized waste treaters).  Although chemical manufacturers in the United States voluntarily stopped making PFOS and PFOA years ago, these persistent chemicals may be found in factories years after they were used.  Sites contaminated by firefighting foams or PFAS-contaminated industrial wastes have also been found to be sources for WWTPs when they discharge to the sanitary sewer.

Unfortunately, conventional WWTP treatment does not effectively remove PFAS if it is discharged to the sewer system by industries or contaminated sites.  Instead, PFAS may be passed through treatment to lakes, streams, and groundwater, as well as interfere with management of solids from the treatment process referred to as sludge or biosolids.

Michigan has water quality standards (WQS or Michigan Rule 57 values) for two PFAS, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).  PFOS has led to fish consumption advisories for some Michigan rivers because it bioaccumulates so readily in fish and has potential human health effects if eaten.  The applicable WQS for PFOS is 12 ppt (parts per trillion) for streams that are not used for drinking water and 11 ppt for those used as a drinking water source. The applicable WQS for PFOA is much higher at 12,000 ppt for surface waters that are not used for drinking water and 420 ppt for those used as a drinking water source.

Michigan’s IPP PFAS Initiative

In order to address the potential that municipal WWTPs could be passing through elevated levels of PFAS through their treatment systems to lakes and streams, EGLE launched the IPP PFAS Initiative in February 2018.

The IPP PFAS Initiative required all municipal WWTPs with required IPPs (95 statewide) to find out if they were passing through PFOS and/or PFOA to surface waters and, if found, to reduce and eliminate any sources.  Under the Initiative, WWTPs were required to:

  • Identify industrial users to their system that were potential sources of PFAS.
  • Sample probable sources and their WWTP discharge (effluent) if sources were above screening criteria (12 ppt PFOS).
  • Require source reduction at confirmed sources.  This is being accomplished through pollutant minimization plans, equipment/tank change out/clean outs, product replacement, and installation of pretreatment to remove PFAS, specifically PFOS, prior to discharge.
  • Monitor compliance of  confirmed sources  and ensure that they meet local IPP PFAS requirements.
  • Submit required reports and monitoring results as required by the WRD.

As a part of this effort, theWRD developed numerous documents, including Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), Wastewater PFAS Sampling Guidance, and Recommended PFAS Screening and Evaluation Guidance.  A listing of documents produced or made available through that effort can be found at Michigan.gov/IPP

IPP PFAS Initiative Status – February 2018 through February 2020

Pie Chart showing 31% of WWTP discharge doesnt meet PFOS water quality standard, 46% of WWTP have no sources of PFOS, 23% of WWTPs meet PFOS WQS, but sources foundSince implementation, significant progress has been made in identifying sources of PFAS, specifically PFOS, to WWTPs and reducing levels released to the environment.  

Some key observations the WRD has made to date (February 2020):

  • Sixty-six (66) of 95 of WWTPs with IPPs (or 69%) either have no sources or have sources but have discharges at or less than the PFOS WQS.
  • 93 out of 95 WWTPs were able to complete the initial screening of their industrial users within one year of starting the initiative.  Most were able to complete the screening within six months.
  • Low levels of PFOS (approximately 3 ppt - 7 ppt) were detected in wastewater even when no significant industrial sources were present.  This suggests that background levels of PFAS may be found in most communities.
  • Source reduction efforts have resulted in substantial drops in PFOS concentrations being discharged at the WWTPs.  (See Table 1)
Table 1. Substantial PFOS Reduction at WWTPs with Exceedances
Municipal WWTP PFOS, Effluent (ppt, as of February 2020) PFOS Reduction in Effluent (highest to most recent) Actions Taken to Reduce PFOS
Ionia WWTP < 7.6 99% Treatment (GAC) at source (1)
Lapeer 11 99% Treatment (GAC) at source (1)
Wixom 40* 99% Treatment (GAC) at source (1)
Howell 3.7 97% Treatment (GAC/resin) at source (1)
Bronson 13* 95% Treatment (GAC) at source (1)
Kalamazoo 3.1 92% Treatment (GAC) at source (2), change water supply
K.I. Sawyer* 13* 95% Eliminated leak PFOS-containing fire-fighting foam
GLWA (Detroit) 32* 62% Treatment (GAC) at sources (8)
Belding 7.2 49% Restricted landfill leachate quanitity accepted

*Effluent exceeds WQS of ppt

Monitoring results, if applicable, are provided for each WWTP that participated in the IPP PFAS Initiative in the interactive map below.  Additional information for each WWTP can be found in the WRD’s online permitting and compliance database at Michigan.gov/MiWaters.

View the Michigan IPP WWTP PFAS Status interactive map

This application contains a complex map. Call 517-284-6726 for assistance with reading or interpreting. If you have questions or comments, please contact: EGLE-Maps@Michigan.gov.

Statewide PFAS Assessment of WWTPs and Biosolids/Sludge

In 2018, the WRD implemented two initiatives to assess potential environmental impacts of PFAS associated with municipal wastewater. The first initiative, the IPP PFAS Initiative, was launched in February 2018.  As described above, the purpose of the IPP PFAS Initiative was to evaluate the potential for PFAS from industrial sources to pass through WWTPs to receiving waters (groundwater, lakes, and streams), and to reduce or eliminate significant industrial sources of PFAS to the municipal system. Two years into implementation, of the 95 WWTPs with IPPs, 46% did not identify any significant industrial sources of PFOS or PFOA to their system, 23% identified significant industrial sources but the WWTP discharge still meets state water quality values, and 31% identified significant industrial sources and the WWTP discharge exceeds state water quality values.

The WRD launched a second initiative in the fall of 2018. Under this initiative, a statewide PFAS assessment of 42 WWTPs was conducted to better understand the fate of PFOS and PFOA at municipal WWTPs. Influent, effluent and biosolids/sludge sampling was performed to calculate mass balances for PFOS and PFOA through municipal wastewater treatment processes. The 20 largest WWTPs with the highest flows, along with an additional 22 WWTPs with various treatment processes, were selected. A total of 23 agricultural fields associated with 9 WWTPs were also evaluated for potential PFAS impacts utilizing soil, surface water, tile drains, and groundwater samples. This statewide PFAS sampling study provides a robust evaluation of potential PFAS impacts to the WWTPs and biosolids from Michigan.

Read EGLE’s Summary Report: “Initiatives to Evaluate the Presence of PFAS in Municipal Wastewater and Associated Residuals (Sludge/Biosolids) in Michigan”.

NPDES PFAS Permitting Strategy

Moving forward, the WRD has developed a Municipal NPDES Permitting Strategy for PFOS and PFOA. The goal of the strategy is to continue to identify, reduce, and remove PFOS and PFOA at WWTPs. Read the Municipal NPDES Permitting Strategy for PFOS and PFOA from the WRD.