WASHINGTON (WOOD) — U.S. senators frustrated that the federal government can’t legally go after PFAS polluters didn’t get the answers they wanted Wednesday from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA’s director of groundwater and drinking water, Peter Grevatt, told members of a Senate subcommittee that it could “take some years” to set an enforceable level in drinking water for the likely carcinogen. The EPA currently has only an advisory level of 70 parts per trillion, a level that some say is too high.
“In Michigan, we have seen firsthand the devastation a community experiences when it can’t trust the water coming out of the tap,” U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said in the hearing before the Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management.
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The PFAS hearing was the second in less than a month in Washington. A U.S. House hearing also led to calls for stronger EPA enforcement.
State tests have found nearly 1.6 million people in Michigan are drinking public water with at least some PFAS in it.
Senators from other states, including Alabama and New Hampshire, also said PFAS had made it unsafe for residents to drink their own water.
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Experts told senators that the PFAS crisis is even more complicated because there are so many compounds — more than 4,000 — and that little is known about most of them.
In Michigan, PFAS has contaminated wells, lake and rivers and has led to fish advisories. In Belmont, it came from the Scotchgard that Wolverine Worldwide Inc. used for years to treat shoes.
Peters briefly told the story of Sandy Wynn-Stelt, who lives across from Wolverine’s former House Street dump and whose PFAS levels are among the highest ever recorded. Her husband died of cancer. He also told the story of Jack McNaughton, whose blood has some of the highest PFAS levels ever recorded for a child.
“He’s just 2 years old,” Peters said.
Wynn-Stelt traveled to Washington with McNaughton’s mom Tobyn and another Belmont neighbor, Jennifer Carney, to speak with lawmakers.
“Now they fear their children have been poisoned since their birth,” Peters said.
On Wednesday, Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint said he has amended a Federal Aviation Administration bill to no longer require airports to use PFAS-based firefighting foam.
“Almost unbelievably, the law right now requires airports that use firefighting foam to use a form of this foam that includes this dangerous chemical,” he said.
The Department of Defense said it is working to develop a PFAS-free firefighting foam.
Kildee also released this statement before the Senate hearing:
“Michiganders deserve a specific plan on how the Trump Administration plans to clean up dangerous PFAS chemical contamination, including around military bases like former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. Oscoda residents and families across Michigan have waited too long for the Defense Department and the federal government to respond to PFAS drinking water contamination. We know how harmful PFAS chemicals are, but the federal government still needs to do more to protect public health and provide health care for veterans and others exposed to PFAS chemicals.”
The EPA on Wednesday also announced it would hold a public “roundtable” meeting in Michigan next week, though details weren’t immediately available.