Michigan PFAS Drinking Water Rules Advance to Legislature

Newswire—The Environmental Rules Review Committee (ERRC) voted to approve draft rules that would set enforceable drinking water standards on toxic fluorochemicals known as PFAS in public water supplies across the state of Michigan.
by Garret Ellison, MLive

controversial oversight panel has advanced proposed limits on “forever chemicals” in Michigan drinking water to the state legislature.

On Thursday, Feb. 27, the Environmental Rules Review Committee (ERRC) voted to approve, as written, draft rules that would set enforceable drinking water standards on toxic fluorochemicals known as PFAS in public water supplies.

The proposed limits now move to a legislative oversight panel known as the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR). The committee can allow them to proceed, request changes, or introduce bills to either pass or delay the rules.

Should the rules be adopted, it would be the first time Michigan developed its own standards — rather than relying on federal rules — to regulate contaminants in drinking water.

Steve Sliver, head of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART), called the vote a “really positive step.”

“I think it came out here today that this was very important rulemaking, where you had seven state departments behind it and an outside science advisory workgroup to make sure we had a very defensible foundation for rulemaking," Sliver said. "I think that's what helped make this go through.”

Environmental and public health groups praised the action.

"The proposed standards for PFAS are a significant step in the right direction toward tackling the PFAS crisis in Michigan and ensuring communities have safe, clean water to drink,” said Nick Occhipinti, government affairs director with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Michigan Environmental Council, Ecology Center, Clean Water Action, FLOW and Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council all released statements of support after the meeting.

The Michigan Manufacturers Association (MMA) and the Michigan Chemistry Council (MCC) spoke in opposition to the rules during the meeting and the Michigan Farm Bureau took a neutral position.

“I think the committee decided to vote and they voted,” said Dave Greco, MMA regulatory and environmental affairs director, when asked for reaction after the meeting.

During public comment, Greco said the MMA is concerned about “the scientific and technical credibility” of the rules based on a review by toxicologist Michael Dourson, whom MMA hired to analyze the conclusions of EGLE's science advisors. Dourson's track record of defending weak standards helped to sink his nomination as chief chemical safety regulator at the Environmental Protection Agency two years ago.

Thursday's ERRC vote was unanimous in support of advancing the rules, although Grant Trigger and Daniel Frakes, director of global regulatory development for General Motors, both abstained from voting. Trigger manages cleanups for RACER Trust, which markets contaminated former GM properties. He is currently managing several PFAS cleanups.

Trigger spoke at length during the meeting about concerns with potential ancillary impacts of the proposed standards on PFAS cleanups. He suggested the new rules could affect criteria used to evaluate soil contaminated by tainted biosolids or compost.

The ERRC panel is one of two created last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature to oversee state environmental rulemaking. Critics have labeled them “polluter panels” because of industry's representation within their ranks. The panels were the focus of an early showdown between Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republicans, which overrode her attempt to abolish them while reorganizing the former Department of Environmental Quality in February.

The ERRC meeting followed three public hearings on the rules in January hosted by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

The state says it received 3,334 written and 82 oral comments on the rules during the public review window. Of the comments, about 75 percent were supportive, 24 percent were considered neutral and less than one percent opposed, according to EGLE.

According to EGLE, written comments in opposition came from 3M Corp, Consumers Energy, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, MMA and MCC, among others.

The state began drafting maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs, this spring for seven different PFAS compounds following expert toxicology reviews that started in 2018. Barring any delay at the legislature, EGLE hopes to have the standards in place by the end of April.

Proposed limits (in parts-per-trillion, or ppt) for the compounds are: PFNA (6-ppt); PFOA (8-ppt); PFOS (16-ppt); PFHxS (51-ppt); GenX (370-ppt); PFBS (420-ppt); PFHxA (400,000-ppt).

The chemicals have been found at some level in public water serving about 1.9 million people in Michigan.

The standards would apply to about 2,700 water supplies and establish sampling, public notification and laboratory certification requirements for public supplies that serve more than 25 people in Michigan.

EGLE estimates Michigan water systems would collectively have to spend about $7.4 million installing treatment and $6.4 million to test for PFAS during the first year. Water systems could test for PFAS annually unless existing data or new testing shows detections in the system. Those systems would have to test quarterly. Compliance would be based on a running average of detections.

The regulations would not directly impact Michigan households which draw groundwater from a private well because the state lacks jurisdiction needed to require that homeowners test their own water.

While drinking water standards are usually developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and adopted by states, the EPA isn't moving fast enough on deciding whether or not to regulate the chemicals to satisfy many states.

On Feb. 20, the EPA announced a “preliminary regulatory determination” to regulate two individual types of PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, in drinking water. If the agency does move forward with rule-making, the process is expected to take another several years.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), studies of humans exposed to PFAS exposure have shown that certain chemicals can affect the growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children, lower a woman's chance of getting pregnant, interfere with the body's natural hormones, increase cholesterol levels, affect the immune system and increase the risk of cancer.

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