PFAS accountability bill passes, a reminder that enforceable limits sit stagnant
A bill increasing toxic chemical contamination accountability and pollution prevention unanimously passed the Michigan Senate Wednesday. It also serves as a reminder that the state’s first enforceable drinking water limits on PFAS have stalled in a committee for nearly three months, one step away from protecting human and environmental health.
House Bill 4389, sponsored by Republican Rep. Sue Allor, now awaits Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature. If signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, fire departments must report details on actions involving fire-fighting foam containing PFAS -- shorthand for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances -- within 48 hours after their use. It also puts into statute a state-run, free, voluntary collection and disposal program for the same fire-fighting foams.
“Today’s bill passage was a welcome step in protecting public health because it creates avenues for the safe disposal of toxic PFAS foam. We encourage Gov. Whitmer to make it law,” said Charlotte Jameson, program director of legislative affairs, drinking water and energy for Michigan Environmental Council. “The overwhelming support for this bill also emphasizes the need for the Joint Committee on Legislative Rules to take up the PFAS drinking water limits that sit in front of them. The longer its members wait, the more people are exposed to toxic chemicals that have already damaged the health of Michiganders and our waterways.”
The joint committee received draft PFAS limits Feb. 27 from the industry-dominated Environmental Rules Review Committee. The ERRC approved maximum contaminant limits on seven PFAS after receiving 3,334 public comments, of which 75% were in support. The ERRC also received support and guidance from organizations such as Michigan Environmental Council, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, Clean Water Action, Huron River Watershed Council and Ecology Center.
The Joint Committee on Legislative Rules has 15 quorum session days to either waive the period to allow the rules to go into effect or extend the period. If it takes no action in the 15-day period, the rules go on into effect. The 15-day period was expected to end in May, but due to COVID-19 changes to legislative session only 10 of the 15 days have passed since the end of February. Under the current legislative schedule, if the 15-day period isn’t waived, the rules will likely not take effect until later this summer or in the fall.
That would be an unnecessary and potentially damaging delay, Jameson said.
“Overwhelming public support shows that people want their government to take action without delay to protect them and our water from toxic chemicals,” she said.
Nearly 4,000 PFAS are found in products that are waterproof, stain resistant and non-stick, from shoes to cosmetics. Some such products, like firefighting foam, have worked their way into groundwater and drinking water systems, such as the 220,000 parts per trillion of PFAS found in water at Oscoda’s air force base. Preliminary research indicates that the chemicals can cause developmental, reproductive and immunological damage and that some forms could be carcinogenic.