A Freedom of Information Act request revealed the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality knew six years ago about the harmful effects of PFAS chemicals (formerly referred to as PFCs) sometimes found in drinking water. The DEQ launched a statewide study of PFAS groundwater contamination earlier this year.
The news site MLive first reported this week that a DEQ employee alerted the department to a widespread need for research and education about the dangers of PFAS contamination in 2012.
“I was amazed to find that the levels of PFCs in the general population in blood samples that were collected by CDC had already risen to very alarming levels,” says Richard DeGrandchamp, a toxicologist with the University of Colorado who was commissioned to work on the DEQ report.
A couple dozen sites in Michigan have already tested positive for the toxic set of chemicals found in firefighting home and water-repellent products. The communities of Oscoda and Rockford have been particularly hard hit because of industry there.
State representative Winnie Brinks is a Democrat from Grand Rapids, near the contaminated Rockford site. She says she’s frustrated the DEQ has only acted in recently months to study PFAS.
“It’s very discouraging to me that that report was there, that that information was there and our entire department of the DEQ was either instructed to not do anything about it, or buried it intentionally, or possibly just ignored it,” she says. ”Any of those scenarios are really not acceptable.”
Brinks is joined by several Democratic lawmakers and conservationists in calling for the state Legislature to investigate the DEQ report, and to hold hearings on legislative proposals to regulate PFAS contamination levels.
A spokesperson for the DEQ says the department has acted on all of the recommendations of the 2012 report in recent months. And they say Michigan is leading the nation in PFAS contamination research.
The reporter who uncovered the 2012 report through FOIA has been following the PFAS story closely for a couple years. Garret Ellison is the environment and Great Lakes reporter with MLive, by way of the Grand Rapids Press, and he joins Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson to talk about the DEQ report and the threat of PFAS in drinking water throughout the state.
To hear Ellison on Detroit Today, click on the audio player above.