GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Michigan environmental group committed to protecting the region from PFAS pollution says a new bill introduced on Capitol Hill is a strong step in the right direction.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, helped introduce a bipartisan piece of legislation to help federal agencies get a deeper understanding of PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — which are now considered toxic and a likely human carcinogen.
The Federal PFAS Research Evaluation Act was introduced in a Senate hearing last month. If passed, the bill would require all federal agencies that deal with PFAS in some capacity to work alongside the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on a consensus study to help shape future decisions on how to best address PFAS contamination.
In a release, Peters said the more we learn about PFAS, the more contamination and exposures we find.
“To effectively address this crisis, we need a more complete understanding of the impact PFAS has on our health, environment and communities,” Peters said.
Sandy Wynn-Stelt, a Belmont psychologist turned environmental advocate, agrees with the senator. Wynn-Stelt, who serves as a co-chair for the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network, compares the ongoing research to peeling an onion. As more layers are uncovered, more contamination and environmental problems are found.
“We now know that it’s not just in our water, it’s in our soil, it’s in our air, it’s in our food, it’s in our packaging, it’s in the carpet that you let your kids roll around on. So, we really need a coordinated effort to study this,” Wynn-Stelt told News 8.
In some ways, this potential study would mirror how PFAS action has been covered in Michigan.
“That was sort of how (the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team) was designed, bringing in the whole of government approach,” Wynn-Stelt said. “If you’ve ever been to an MPART meeting, the DNR is there, the health department’s there, water quality is there, and everybody has a united approach to addressing this.”
PFAS is a giant group of chemical compounds. They were first developed in the 1940s and incorporated into all sorts of products in the years that followed, including non-stick pans, nail polish, eye makeup and dental floss.
For decades, manufacturers knew PFAS builds up in the human bloodstream, but it wasn’t until 2005 that the EPA announced the chemical compounds are a likely carcinogen, meaning they can cause cancer.
In the past, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been criticized by environmentalists for only focusing on the most common forms of PFAS when there are actually thousands of different compounds. Wynn-Stelt believes this potential study will help expand that focus.
“I think the other thing that’s really important about this bill is it’s not just looking at one chemical at a time, but it’s looking at the whole group of chemicals. It will look at (whether) there are any safe replacements and what that would be,” Wynn-Stelt said. “One of the challenges we’ve had is that they test them and know certain ones are dangerous and then (developers) come up with new ones that are just a little bit different. So, we’re playing whack-a-mole with 8,000 different compounds. I think this going to kind of streamline that and hopefully make a change.”
Wynn-Stelt says there are two steps beyond identifying PFAS. First, researchers need to figure out how to remediate polluted sites and destroy the compounds. And second, lawmakers need to find a way to hold polluters and chemical developers responsible.
“I think people are working really hard, I’m just kind of impatient,” Wynn-Stelt said with a smile. “I always want to see more, and I always have ideas of what could be done. I think most of us feel like, ‘if you make a mess, it’s your responsibility to clean it up.’ That’s how we raise our kids and our grandkids. Why wouldn’t we hold corporations to the same thing? If they made a mess, they need to be responsible for the cost of the cleanup.”