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.
Public health officials are concerned with the cause of a rare polio-like disease, acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). AFM effects the central nervous system producing weakness in one or more limbs. It principally affects children and may lead to paralysis – like polio. Dissimilar to polio, AFM does not have a vaccine, and there are no known proven effective therapies.
Cases of AFM spiked for the first time in 2014 with a record high of 124 confirmed cases. In 2018, an increase from 67 to 90 reported and 127 to 242 suspected cases have been seen over the last month announced the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on November 13.
While parents are desperate for
answers, the CDC continues to investigate the etiology of AFM. Tests of cerebral spinal fluid, the clear
fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, produced pathogens in only two of
the confirmed cases this year.
Historically, since 2014, cases of AFM
have rarely produced pathogens in tested cerebral spinal fluid samples.
However, scientists do suspect a hidden viral infection to be the most likely
culprit. The CDC continues to explore other potential causes including environmental
toxins, genetic disorders and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
What is known from examining the
confirmed cases is that AFM often presents as fever or respiratory symptoms
three to ten days before limb weakness. At a recent news conference, Nancy
Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and
Respiratory Diseases in Atlanta, stated “this time of year, many children have
fever and respiratory symptoms [and] most of them do not go on to develop AFM. We’re
trying to figure out what the triggers are that would cause someone to develop