PFAS Community Forum
Sponsored by the GT Bay Watershed Center
The forum was kicked off by moderator Morgan Springer, News Director of Interlochen Public Radio.
First to speak was Steve Sliver, Environmental Great Lakes Energy (EGLE), Michigan PFAS Action Response Team Exc. Director. Steve explained that the PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) designation includes a number of chemicals such as PFOA’s (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS’s (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid). He stated that PFAS are a diverse group of compounds resistant to heat, water, and oil. For decades, they have been used in hundreds of industrial applications and consumer products such as carpeting, apparels, upholstery, food paper wrappings, fire-fighting foams and metal plating.
PFAS sites are where one or more groundwater sample exceeds the Part 201 cleanup criteria for groundwater used as drinking water, which is 70 ppt PFOS + PFOA. Forty-nine sites have been identified in Michigan as exceeding 70 ppt (parts per trillion) which is presently considered the acceptable amount present in water sources. A total of 62 sites have been discovered in Michigan so far. Once a site has been identified, wells are checked for levels of these chemicals. Steve explained that the foam seen floating on streams and lakes is PFOS. Alerts are put out not to touch foam spews. For example, they don’t want kids to come in contact. PFAS chemicals are everywhere but are especially used as a fire fighting foam retardant. EGLE trys to contain the spread of foam retardant PFAS’s by collecting unused amounts stored in fire stations for disposal.
Next to speak was Dave Maynard, EGLE, Senior Environmental Quality Analyst, who explained that Aqueous Film-Forming Foam Concentrates (AFFF) combine fluoro- and hydrocarbon-surfactant or Chemguard, used as a firefighting retardant, contains PFAS. It is also used by the military. It was originally produced by 3M.
Referring to the PFAS site in Grawn, Michigan, at the now bankrupt Carl’s Retreading Business, Dave explained that the site caught fire and burned for several weeks being sprayed with fire retardant containing PFAS. Ultimately the mass was pushed into a hole and buried which finally extinguished the fire. Carl’s tried to clean up the site but did not have the resources to do so. Four feet of pyrolytic oil was found floating on the groundwater table which was removed. Temporary groundwater monitoring wells were installed southeast of the site. The samples taken at the school showed no PFAS contamination which was a great relief to all. Bottled water was distributed to all the residents where any amount of PFAS was found.
Dan Thorell, Grand Traverse County Environmental Health Director continued speaking regarding the site in Blair Township in Grawn, Michigan. He said that they know that PFAS contamination has moved off the site. Thirteen households around the original contamination site, formerly Carl’s Retreading, are on bottled drinking water. Operating under the Public Health Code, Act 368, GT Co. Environmental Health provides toxicological expertise. The problem is that not a lot is known about the adverse effects of PFAS in humans. However, research suggests that PFAS present in our blood can:
Increase cholesterol levels
Decrease vaccine effectiveness
Increase thyroid disease
Decrease fertility rates in women
Increase high blood pressure in pregnant women
Lower infant birth weights
Cause kidney and testicular cancer
Very low levels (6 ppts per trillion) of PFAS contamination were found at the Grawn site. Dan reiterated that the contamination was caused by a fire in 1995, at Carl’s Retreading by the firefighting Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF), or Chemguard, the chemical used to put out the fire after 20 days of spraying and the burial of the remains. Testing of wells in the area did not occur until 2018, and it was acknowledged that PFAS levels may have been higher at the time of contamination and for years afterwards. At the time none of the water wells casings were grouted like they are required to be today. Wells southeast of Carl’s were in the study area. At first the residents were put on bottled water. Later Aqusana filters filled with granular activated carbons were installed at their sinks; the state paying the costs. Every home has access to municipal water lines at the road with 0% interest loans.
C: A gentleman commented that 70 ppt is no longer valid. The recommended levels are now lower, or 60 ppts. He asked if PFAS tend to disseminate or do the concentrations increase as it moves down the plume?
A: Ppt levels should decrease as it moves away. PFAS do not behave like other compounds. They do not accumulate as they move downstream. Steve Sliver commented that ingestion is the primary way people are exposed to PFAS contamination, usually through drinking water. Also, through food intake and perhaps through the skin, as well as possibly through food packaging. PFAS are present in some level in all of us.
Q: Is foam found floating on streams always PFAS?
A: We do not have a standard way to collect samples. PFAS foam is bright white, with high concentrations of PFAS. That is why we warn parents not to let their children come in contact.
Q: A homeowner said that the former owners of her home were taxidermists. She asked if there could be PFAS contamination in her water supply.
A: She was referred to the previous owners to get information about the chemicals they used and if they contained PFAS.
Q: A question was asked as to how PFAS contamination compares with contamination from toxic chemicals like PCB, DDT, Mercury, etc. danger wise.
A: These kinds of comparative studies have not been done, but PFAS do not accumulate in the environment like those chemicals do. The detection level for PFAS is 2 ppts, the standard set by the EPA.
Q: Could they comment on the sites in Leelanau County, i.e., Northport and Sutton’s Bay.
A: Work on those sites has just begun. Not much data available.
Q: How do PFAS behave in the human body?
A: The commentator said he was not well versed in this matter, however PFAS are primarily found in blood, kidneys and liver. PFAS do not accumulate in body fat like some chemicals. They do interfere with body functioning. They should not be in our bodies, but at present not enough information is available as to the total range of adverse effects.
For more information on PFAS reference the Scientific Evidence and Recommendations for Managing PFAS Contamination in Michigan Report put out by the Michigan PFAS Science Advisory Panel, Dec. 7, 2018 at https://www.michigan.gov/documents/pfasresponse/Science_Advisory_Board_Report_641294_7.pdf