A crisis in Michigan late last year was a catalyst for many states now reviewing standards for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. In August of 2018, The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) announced that high-levels of PFAS were discovered in the municipal water of Parchment, MI. Three wells that provide water to the municipality were found to have levels around or above the federal advisory level (70 ppt) with one well 26 times over the threshold currently recommend by the EPA.
PFAS are manufactured chemicals used in numerous industries and found in products such as textiles (see graph above), pizza boxes, cookware, and stain-repellents. Humans can gain exposure to PFAS through the usage of products containing them or through contaminated food and water sources. Exposure to these PFAS can build up in the human body, which cannot break them down, and has been linked to high cholesterol, cancer, low infant birth weights, as well as kidney and liver disease.
The state is currently investigating the source of the contamination, which may be related to the city’s industrial history. Parchment is known as “The Paper City” and currently houses a closed paper mill and landfill within its limits. These sites are a potential source of the contamination due to the common use of PFAS in paper production. Results from analysis of well water retrieved from near the landfill site are pending.
Immediately following the discovery, affected residents were supplied with clean bottled water for drinking. The state continues to look for a permanent solution and plans to link Parchment’s system to nearby Kalamazoo for the immediate future until the contamination is controlled.
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