Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemicals used for decades in firefighting foam, chrome plating, and stain resistance, fire retardant and waterproofing on clothing, carpet, textiles, and even food wrappers. These chemicals last for decades in the environment and can build up over time in human and animal tissue. Health risks include pregnancy complications, thyroid disease, immune deficiencies, and cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency recommended a lifetime health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) in drinking water for two of the most common PFAS chemicals: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Michigan has set surface and groundwater quality standards and is working on enforceable drinking water limits.
While most U.S. manufacturers have phased out PFOS and PFOA, residue from previous uses are still released into the environment. Because these chemicals are easily transported by water, Michigan organized a multi-agency team to track PFAS levels and movement. The Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) tested all municipal water supplies in the state, plus many private wells, lakes, streams, and land sites for PFAS. High concentrations have been found at two drinking water sites which were given alternate supplies, several lakes and streams where Do Not Eat Advisories have been issued for fish consumption (and one for deer consumption), and at seven wastewater treatment plants where monitoring of their treatment and testing of their land application sites is underway.
MPART is working with each site to reduce contamination levels and human exposure. Additionally, they are researching other potential pathways like crop uptake and meat and dairy products. Recent media stories about dairies in New Mexico and Maine being contaminated by PFAS chemicals, and the state’s testing on farm fields where biosolids were applied, have raised concerns among some farmers about whether their farms are at risk of PFAS contamination. The MPART team has not found any Michigan farms that have or are likely to have high PFAS concentrations, and they continue to work with concerned growers and global researchers on food supply questions.
Adopting practices more familiar to industry than farming could provide some protection: Michigan law protects landowners from liability if they did not cause contamination and they either: 1) purchased the property before 1995, or 2) perform and submit a Baseline Environmental Assessment. This includes protection from clean-up costs if the contamination must be remediated. However, that solution does not answer questions about risks to farms and food from PFAS and other chemicals. Farmers will need MPART to continue its scientific research and action recommendations, and will need help addressing industry and consumer concerns to protect themselves and public and environmental health.
Contact:Laura Campbell | 517-679-5332
MFB #84 Nonpoint Source Pollution and Watershed Management
AFBF #505 Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Management
Baseline Environmental Assessments
Michigan PFAS Action Response Team