GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Federal regulators are proposing a national limit for the amount of some PFAS compounds in drinking water.
Proposed regulations announced Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency would mean a new standard for the class of man-made chemicals that have been linked to several illnesses, including some types of cancer.
Sandy Wynn-Stelt, who lives near a contaminated site just outside of Rockford, lost her husband to liver cancer seven years ago. The family unknowingly drank contaminated water for decades.
“This is a real victory for a lot of us that have been asking for this. It really shows that the EPA is letting science guide their decisions when it comes to protecting human health,” Wynn-Stelt said.
The agency is proposing a 4 parts per trillion limit for two types of PFAS and greater regulation of four others. At Wynn-Stelt’s home, the PFAS level was nearly 38,000 ppt.
“I don’t think people realize how hard it is to have your water contaminated and then know that that is never going to leave your body and you’re always going to wonder, every ache and pain, everything that comes up, you’re going to wonder if it’s related to that,” Wynn-Stelt, who herself fought thyroid cancer, said.
The contamination near Rockford was linked to waste from shoemaker Wolverine Worldwide, which used Scotchgard containing PFAS to waterproof shoes. Elsewhere, it has been traced back to Teflon production and a type of foam used to fight jet airplane fires.
Richard Rediske, a researcher with the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University, said the new federal standard is much more stringent than the maximum contaminant levels allowed by the state and will create more uniform regulations across the country.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Rediske said. “They’re starting with the two most common ones, the PFOS and PFOA. So those are the ones that have the very significant usage. They’re widely distributed.”
The limit being proposed is considered a very tough standard.
“Most labs can achieve 4 ppt and you can’t have more than that in the sample so it’s essentially a zero but it’s not a zero. It’s what you can accurately detect,” Rediske said.
The West Michigan Environmental Action Council welcomed the news but says PFAS should be regulated as an entire group of compounds, deputy director Elaine Sterrett Isely said.
“There are thousands of them and we really need to stop with the, ‘Oh, it’s proprietary.’ We really need to know what’s in all of these,” Isely said.
She said more funding will be needed to help municipal water systems filter out PFAS and comply with the new standards.
“The smaller municipalities, the larger municipalities, this is going to be really expensive. The health costs are going to be immense,” Isely said.
People who unknowingly drank contaminated water hope the announcement means the chemicals will be taken more seriously.
“What I’m hoping what this proposal does is makes future generations’ water cleaner and healthier for them so that no one else has to go through this,” Wynn-Stelt said.