WASHINGTON (WOOD) — The PFAS crisis that spread to wells, faucets and coffee pots in places like Belmont and Parchment reached Congress Thursday, with calls for a stronger response from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The latest state reports show that nearly 1.6 million people in Michigan are drinking from public water supplies with at least traces of the likely carcinogen, according to a Target 8 analysis.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, called that unacceptable, "especially when we haven't even set the standard for what's safe and what's not safe."
The leader of Michigan's PFAS Action Response Team was among seven experts who testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday.
"This is a national issue," Carol Isaacs, director of MPART, told the panel. "The states can't do it all. We need our federal partners, we need our Congress."
>>App users: Watch the PFAS hearing here.
Among the Michigan cities with trace amounts of PFAS in public water: Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Wyoming.
More than 50 public water systems in Michigan have some level of contamination, including some mobile home parks, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which continues to test water supplies statewide. Those numbers don't include hundreds of tainted private wells in places like Belmont and near Parchment.
Michigan has identified 35 PFAS source sites, from Wolverine Worldwide's old dump in Belmont, to Wurtsmith Air Force Base, contaminating wells and leading to fears of cancer.
>>Inside woodtv.com: Toxic Tap Water
"If I was somebody who had PFAS in my water, I'd drink bottled water until I knew what a safe level was," Dingell told Target 8 outside the hearing.
Michigan's three congressional committee members — a Democrat and two Republicans — said they are working together on PFAS.
"Flint was a wake-up call for the conscience of every one of us and we're going to fight to get this handled, addressed and make sure that our kids, and it's not just kids, every American should be drinking safe clean water," Dingell said.
Both Michigan Republicans on the committee, Reps. Fred Upton and Tim Walberg, praised the EPA for its response in Parchment, where high PFAS levels forced 3,000 people to drink bottled water for a month.
"I think they're doing a better job than they did in Flint," Walberg said. "Flint, they just walked away without giving insights or mandates that they should have."
But they said the EPA needs tougher standards for PFAS.
"We've seen some walking away from commitments to the environment," U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., said during the hearing. "There can be no more kicking the can down the road."
The EPA has an advisory level for PFAS in drinking water — 70 parts per trillion. Some called for that to be lowered and to make it enforceable.
"Absolutely it has to be enforceable," Upton said outside the hearing. "When people turn on their water, they want it to be safe. They don't want a fear of contamination."
The committee praised Michigan's response to the PFAS crisis, with its statewide testing and what they called a quick response in Parchment.
"I think the state has set a pattern for the rest of nation on how to handle it," Walberg said.
Also Thursday, Upton criticized the U.S. Department of Defense, saying it sat for months on a report that showed extremely dangerous levels of PFAS at the Battle Creek Air National Guard base. One test showed 53,000 parts per trillion, 750 times the EPA advisory limit. Upton got the report on Wednesday.
"When we have a federal agency that knows what contaminated level might be, they need to be fully transparent; we need to find out right away," Upton told Target 8.
MDEQ spokesman Scott Dean told Target 8 that the agency believes it has pinpointed the source of the PFAS in Parchment. Officials found high levels of the contaminant in tests at the former Crown Vantage paper mill on the Kalamazoo River, which had already been identified as a suspect.
The state has gotten results from tests of 484 public water supplies — from mobile home parks that serve less than 100 to the Great Lakes Water Authority serving more than 3.7 million in southeast Michigan. No PFAS was found at the Great Lakes Water Authority.
While just one of the public water supplies (Parchment's) has so far tested above the EPA advisory limit, five others would likely violate new lower limits suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Precvention. They are the cities of Kalamazoo and Plainwell and three mobile home parks: Andrews Mobile Home Park in Plainwell; Spring Valley in the Rockford area and Egelcraft in Muskegon County.
The state also tested 146 schools on well water so far, finding 14 with PFAS.