Michigan lawmaker wants to toughen standards for drinking water

Standard for PFAS

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A western Michigan lawmaker wants to toughen drinking water standards related to chemicals once used by Wolverine Worldwide to waterproof shoes.

A House bill introduced this week sets the state drinking water standard for concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, at five parts per trillion. It includes PFOS, a key ingredient in the fabric protector Scotchgard.

The state currently follows a recommendation of 70 parts per trillion set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The amendment to Michigan’s Safe Drinking Water Act was introduced by state Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids. The bill would only cover municipal water systems, she said.

“These are chemicals that are dangerous to human health and can cause cancers, birth defects, thyroid and liver disease and other serious conditions,’’ Brinks said in a news release. “The state has an obligation to protect public health and that includes making sure our drinking water is clean.’’

The state of New Jersey last month set the maximum contaminant limit for PFOA at 14 parts per trillion, making it the most stringent in the nation. Vermont last year set the health advisory level for PFOA in water at 20 parts per trillion.  

Earlier this year, the suspected carcinogen was detected in groundwater near a long-closed Wolverine dump along House Street NE in Plainfield Township.

Hundreds of homes in northern Kent County have had well water tested for contamination linked to chemicals used by the Rockford-based shoemaker.

But the problem isn’t limited to Kent County. PFOS and PFOA compounds have shown up elsewhere in Michigan, including near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Iosco County and near Camp Grayling in northern Michigan. The chemicals were used in firefighting foams at airports and military facilities.

Brinks last week called for a hearing before the House Oversight Committee on the use of PFOS and PFOA chemicals at the Wolverine Worldwide tannery. She’s calling on representatives from 3M, the maker of Scotchard, along with Wolverine Worldwide and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to attend.

“Families’ wells were poisoned through no fault of their own,’’ Brinks said. “It was the state’s job to assure them that their drinking water was clean. If the state fell down on the job, then the state should step up to the plate and make sure that their source of drinking water is clean once again.’’

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