Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), sometimes called PFCs, are a group of chemicals that are resistant to heat, water, and oil. PFAS have been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an emerging contaminant on the national landscape. For decades, they have been used in many industrial applications and consumer products such as carpeting, waterproof clothing, upholstery, food paper wrappings, fire-fighting foams, and metal plating. They are still used today. PFAS have been found at low levels both in the environment and in blood samples of the general U.S. population.
These chemicals are persistent, which means they do not break down in the environment. They also bioaccumulate, meaning the amount builds up over time in the blood and organs. Studies in animals who were exposed to PFAS found links between the chemicals and increased cholesterol, changes in the body’s hormones and immune system, decreased fertility, and increased risk of certain cancers. Studies in which animals were given high levels of PFAS showed effects including low birth weight, delayed puberty onset, elevated cholesterol levels, and reduced immunologic responses to vaccination. Animal studies help scientists understand what could happen in people.
The EPA has set a lifetime health advisory (LTHA) level for two PFAS in drinking water: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). The LTHA level is 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS combined. THE PFOA and PFOS LTHA is the level, or amount, below which no harm is expected from these chemicals. There are other PFAS compounds that do not have LTHA levels.
In communities that may have a PFAS presence, the state has been collecting residential well data to determine if PFAS has entered residential drinking wells. The Governor has assembled ten state departments, including the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (MDMVA), Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), who are ensuring that public health is protected while Michigan’s environmental heritage is secured.
If any resident has additional questions regarding this issue, the State of Michigan Environmental Assistance Center can be contacted at 800-662-9278. Representatives may be reached to assist with your questions Monday – Friday, 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM.
There is concern with any high levels of this contaminant, regardless of if you have a private drinking water well or are on a municipal water system. Municipal water systems are annually tested for a number of contaminants and many are proactively testing for PFOA and PFOS.
Wild fish samples are being collected from local lakes and rivers. These samples will be analyzed to determine the levels of PFAS in fish and make recommendations on how much is safe to eat. Some information is already available in the State of Michigan Eat Safe Fish guides, which are available at www.michigan.gov/eatsafefish.
MDHHS advice is based on the best available science and, per the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory, protective of everyone, including pregnant women, young children, and the elderly. When concentrations exceed the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory Level of 70 ppt for perflourooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) (singly or combined total concentration), MDHHS recommends bottled water or filters. When detections are lower than the EPA level, we also have recommended bottled water or filters to be used in situations when we cannot be confident that these chemicals will continue to be at low levels in your well water. If you have been notified by MDHHS or your local health department that PFAS were found in your well water sample, and that you are near a PFAS source, MDHHS recommends that you do not use your well water for drinking, cooking, making baby formula or food, washing fruits or vegetables, or brushing your teeth, unless your well water is filtered using a system certified to reduce PFOA and PFAS. Touching the water is not harmful. You can bathe, wash dishes, launder your cloths, and clean with your well water.
You may bathe and swim in water containing PFAS. The PFAS do not easily absorb into the skin. It is safe to bathe, as well as do your laundry and household cleaning. It is also safe to swim in and use recreationally. Getting water with PFAS on your skin will not harm you.
Some scientific studies suggest that certain PFAS may affect different systems in the body. The National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH)/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is working with various partners to better understand how exposure to PFAS might affect people’s health. Although more research is needed, some studies in people have shown that certain PFAS may:
At this time, scientists are still learning about the health effects of exposures to mixtures of PFAS. If you are concerned about exposure to PFAS in your drinking water, please contact the MDHHS Toxicology Hotline at 800-648-6942 or the CDC/ATSDR: https://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/ or 800-232-4636
The PFAS lifetime health advisory levels have not been formulated specifically for pets or livestock. If drinking water levels exceed EPA’s human lifetime health advisory (LTHA) level of 70 ppt, then it should be assumed that pets and livestock may be at risk.
If recommended by MDEQ or MDHHS, allow your drinking water well to be tested for PFAS. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) recommends you use the same precautions for animals that you take for yourself.
Contact a veterinarian to perform a physical exam if you suspect that your pet or livestock is experiencing liver, kidney, immune response, or reproductive issues and you suspect that your animal has had PFAS exposure. There may be other causes, apart from PFAS, that may cause issues with the liver, kidney, immune response or reproductive issues. Work with your veterinarian to conduct relevant diagnostic tests.
PFAS are used in many consumer products. They are used in food packaging, such as fast food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags; waterproof and stain resistant fabrics, such as outdoor clothing, upholstery, and carpeting; nonstick coatings on cookware; and cleaning supplies, including some soaps and shampoos. People can be exposed to these chemicals in house dust, indoor and outdoor air, food, and drinking water. Usually the amounts of PFAS a person may be exposed to is quite small.
State and local agencies are actively working to obtain more information about this situation as quickly as possible. Additional testing will begin soon in and around the affected areas, which will help us answer more questions and determine next steps.
The state has created a website where you can find information about PFAS contamination and efforts to address it in Michigan. The site will be updated as more information becomes available. The website address is http://michigan.gov/pfasresponse