EPA sets first-ever limits on ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water. Michigan is already ahead of the curve.

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President Joe Biden’s administration this week finalized strict limits on so-called “forever chemicals” in drinking water, which are set to reduce them to the lowest level they can be reliably measured, curb exposure for 100 million people, and prevent thousands of illnesses.

Environmental Protection Agency officials have said the new rule marks the most important action the federal government has taken on PFAS.

Here in Michigan, the state has had its own standards for toxic PFAS (or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in drinking water since 2020.

Here’s what you need to know about PFAS in Michigan:

What are PFAS?

PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals designed to repel oil and water for temperature resistance and friction reduction for a wide range of consumer and industrial products—including coatings for paper products, cookware, and in firefighting foams. Research shows the food supply is one of the many ways in which PFAS can spread to humans, who can then suffer from a variety of health complications—including low birth weight, liver disease, and certain types of cancers.

How bad is it?

Scientists have dubbed PFAS as “forever chemicals” because they take thousands of years to break down and can accumulate in soil, water, plants, animals, and people over time.

Michigan has been billed among the leading states in recognized PFAS contamination sites. State regulators are actively tracking at least 295 PFAS-contaminated sites across more than half of Michigan’s 83 counties—including at landfills, manufacturing facilities, airports, military bases, and other locations where the chemicals have been used or dumped since the 1940s.

State data shows the majority of those sites, so far, have been identified in Kent, Oakland, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Wayne, and Genesee counties—with each tracking at least a dozen contaminated properties. The sheer extent of the pollution has caused some researchers and activists to label the situation as Michigan’s biggest environmental crisis in at least 40 years.

What’s next?

The new federal limits are stricter than state-level standards, but most of Michigan’s drinking water providers are already reportedly meeting the new federal benchmarks.

Water providers will generally have three years to do testing. If those tests exceed the limits, they’ll have two more years to install treatment systems, according to EPA officials.

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