There’s no need to fear because there are no potentially-harmful levels of PFAS here.
Oxford Township and Village both received July 30 letters from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) informing them that no detectable levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS for short, were found in their municipal water supplies.
Samples were collected from the township’s two water treatment plants, along with a backup well site, on June 11.
A sample was obtained from the village water supply on June 18.
The PFAS test results for all of these samples were reported as “ND,” which, according to the DEQ letters, “means the analyte [chemical] was not detected.”
According to the state’s website www.michigan.gov, PFAS – a group of man-made chemicals that are resistant to heat, water and oil –have been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “an emerging contaminant on the national landscape.”
PFAS have been used globally in industrial practices and consumer products since the 1940s. They have been used in food packaging materials, nonstick cookware, stain- and water-repellent fabrics, cleaning products, paints, varnishes, sealants, firefighting foam, some cosmetics, chrome plating, electronics manufacturing and oil recovery.
Michigan’s website indicates “they are still used today” and “have been found at low levels 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,” the website states. “They also bioaccumulate, meaning the amount builds up over time in the blood and organs.”
Some scientific studies have shown that certain PFAS may affect the growth, learning and behavior of infants and older children; lower a woman’s chances of conceiving; interfere with natural hormones; increase cholesterol levels; impact the body’s immune system; and increase the risk of developing various forms of cancer, according to the state website.
According to the DEQ letters sent to Oxford Township and Village, “there is no regulatory drinking water standard for any of the PFAS chemicals,” however in May 2016, the EPA established “a non-regulatory Lifetime Health Advisory (LHA) for” the two most prevalent types of PFAS – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).
The LHA for PFOA and PFOS chemicals combined, or individually if only one is present, is 70 parts per trillion (ppt), which is “the level, or amount, below which no harm is expected from these chemicals,” the DEQ letters stated.
Michigan is using the 70 ppt level as its standard for making decisions whenever PFAS chemicals are found.
PFOA and PFOS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the U.S., according to the EPA website, however, they’re still produced elsewhere in the world and can enter this country via the importation of common consumer goods, including carpeting, leather and clothing, rubber, plastics, paper and packaging, coatings and textiles.
The EPA “has not set health advisory levels for the other PFAS compounds because not enough is known about them,” the DEQ letters noted.
As it has at many other sites around Michigan, the state tested each of Oxford’s water supplies for a total of 14 PFAS chemicals, according to Connie Sims, an environmental planner with the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office (WRC), which maintains the township’s water system
For eight of those, the smallest amount that could be accurately detected – based on the lab, equipment and methods used – was 2 ppt, Sims explained. For six of those chemicals, the smallest amount that could be accurately found was 4 ppt.
In Oxford’s tests, Sims said, “nothing was detected.”
A non-detect means if there are PFAS chemicals present in the water, their amounts are less than 2 ppt and less than 4 ppt, she explained.
Or “it could be zero,” Sims noted.
Either way, “the concentrations of PFOS and PFOA in these samples are well below” 70 ppt and “not expected to result in adverse health effects as long as the concentrations are shown to remain below the LHA over time,” the DEQ letters stated.
PFAS have been all over the news lately after a state of emergency was declared in Kalamazoo County based on July 26 test results showing the municipal water system for the City of Parchment, which serves approximately 3,100 residents in the city and Cooper Township, had an extremely high level.
A map of confirmed PFAS sites in Michigan, published by the DEQ, shows a total of 34 sites as of July 23.
There are no confirmed PFAS sites in Oakland County, however, there are in three surrounding counties. There are two sites each in Lapeer, Macomb and Genesee counties.
At some of the confirmed PFAS sites in Michigan, the detected levels have been below 70 ppt. At others, the levels have been dramatically higher.
For example, with Parchment’s water system, testing revealed a PFOA level of 670 ppt and a PFOS level of 740 ppt, for a combined 1,410 ppt. The total PFAS level was 1,600 ppt.
Ten state departments, including the DEQ, are involved in a proactive effort to investigate sources and locations of PFAS contamination. One of the goals is to test all community water supplies.
“There aren’t a lot of states that are taking it seriously right now,” said Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley during his campaign stop in Oxford Saturday. “Michigan is way ahead of most other states.”
Calley believes “the rest of the nation really has eyes on Michigan right now” when it comes to dealing with PFAS chemicals.
“We’re (testing) thousands of different locations and sites to find any potential problems and get ahead of it,” he said. “Testing is the first step (in) understanding where problems are and then, mitigation comes next.”
Sims said PFAS are “a new contaminant of concern” and as such, testing for them is “not required as part of routine monitoring” of community water supplies.
On a monthly basis, the WRC currently tests Oxford Township’s wells, elevated storage tanks (i.e. water towers) and distribution system for bacteria such as total coliforms and E. coli.
“(That’s) mainly what people are concerned about,” Sims said.
She asked the DEQ if PFAS chemicals will be added to the county’s monitoring schedule, but she did not receive a definite answer.
“They still don’t know. It’s not a regulated contaminant,” she said.
When asked about future testing, Calley told this reporter, “I do believe that PFAS will be part of some regular testing, not necessarily monthly.”