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DEQ updates waste management professionals on PFAS response

LANSING, MICH. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) this week updated air and waste management professionals on the state-wide effort to identify per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination in Michigan and actions the DEQ is taking to prevent unacceptable exposures to Michigan residents. This DEQ-led effort is part of Governor Snyder’s Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) initiative to enhance coordination in a statewide response to PFAS.

The PFAS response update was part of the larger Air & Waste Management Association (A&WMA) Spring Conference in Grand Rapids.  The West Michigan chapter of the A&WMA hosted the event which was also attended by regional officials from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

Prior to the DEQ briefing on PFAS, DEQ Director Heidi Grether outlined the state’s environmental priorities in 2018 which include a $110 million effort to rebuild Michigan’s water infrastructure, as well as a $74 million proposal to bolster critical environmental protection and clean-up programs.

“Our primary focus remains protecting the people of Michigan from contamination in their water,” Grether said. “As part of this effort we’re working collaboratively with EPA to develop a systematic approach to addressing PFAS and other emerging contaminants.”

The DEQ is leading the state’s $23 million effort to locate PFAS contamination, identify sources, and oversee remediation activities aimed at protecting the state’s water resources and mitigating risks to the public.

PFAS compounds, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), are a group of emerging and potentially harmful contaminants used in thousands of applications globally including firefighting foam, food packaging, and cleaning products.  These compounds are also used by industries such as tanneries, metal platers, and clothing manufacturers.  In January 2018, the DEQ took swift action to set a new legally-enforceable standard of 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA combined.  Michigan is one of only a handful of states to establish enforceable limits for any PFAS compounds. 

“It’s apparent that PFAS is a growing concern and states like Michigan have led on this issue,” said EPA Region 5 Chief of Staff Kurt Thiede. “The EPA is cooperating with the states knowing we can be better together.”

The MPART – the first multi-agency action team of its kind in the nation was established within the Governor’s office last November under the direction of Carol Isaacs. MPART is comprised of state agencies that have been investigating sites for potential contamination and taking actions to protect public health. Members include key leaders of the Michigan Departments of Environmental Quality; Health and Human Services; Military and Veterans Affairs; Natural Resources; Agriculture and Rural Development; and Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. MPART is also coordinating with the USEPA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Guard Bureau, United States Department of Defense, and the appropriate local health departments and other government agencies.

In Michigan, PFAS contamination has been found in a number of areas throughout the state including northern Kent County where Wolverine Worldwide operated a tannery; and several military facilities, like the former Wurtsmith Air Force base, within the state.

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