Health leaders: PFAS advisory level is lower than actual danger levels

The Environmental Protection Agency's PFAS advisory level is actually lower than what scientists believe is dangerous to drink.

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, MICH. - The Environmental Protection Agency's PFAS advisory level is actually lower than what scientists believe is dangerous to drink, state health officials said. 

The EPA's advisory level for PFAS, the suspected carcinogen contaminating wells in Plainfield and Algoma Townships, is 70 parts per trillion (ppt). That number is greatly reduced out of an abundance of caution in the scientific community, said Kory Groetsch, environmental public health director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). 

"We've put in a big safety factor...that [real] number turns out to be about 350 ppt," Groetsch said. "But we don't stop there."

The 350 figure is divided by five to leave 80 percent of the safety buffer for other exposures to PFAS, which are present in many products, he said. 

"We're only going to allow 20 percent to come from drinking water," Groetsch said. "Now we're down to 70 ppt."

 The 70 parts per trillion advisory does not aggregate from drinking water with smaller detections, rather drinking at or above that level for a lifetime, he said. 

Related: Carpet, breastmilk & fish are all places where humans can be exposed to PFAS

Water with PFAS testing above the advisory level can result in issues such as kidney and testicular cancer and infertility, but only with extreme magnitude of contamination, said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive at MDHHS. 

"If you have a level of, say, 69 [ppt] in your water, you would not expect to suffer those risks even if you were drinking that water for your lifetime," Wells said. "But, it's an emerging chemical, so obviously, we take the abundance of caution measures that we are doing."

Despite standing by the 70 parts per trillion advisory, the MDHHS and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are recommending bottled water and point-of-use filters to certain homeowners that live near possible contamination sites. 

"Because there is that unknown there, If we're concerned enough to take the sample, we're concerned enough to, at least, put people on bottled water until we get the results back," said David O'Donnell, field supervisor for the DEQ.  

Meanwhile, Varnum Law, a Grand Rapids law firm representing more than 100 people in Plainfield and Algoma Townships, said the EPA advisory level is not low enough. 

"There are huge differences of opinion in the scientific community about what's 'safe,'" said Aaron Phelps, partner at Varnum law. "[Our clients] want zero toxic chemicals in their water." 

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