Health officials in northwest Michigan are working to remove toxic “forever chemicals” from local drinking water.
The state of Michigan’s investigation into the Pellston community’s water contamination began in 2020, after high school students sampled water from multiple residences near Pellston Regional Airport. The results from the students’ tests revealed that local drinking water contained maximum contaminant levels of PFAS, which are long-lasting chemicals linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals if ingested.
The alarming discovery of PFAS prompted Michigan health officials and entities to deploy multiple phases of water testing in Emmet County, where Pellston is located. A 2021 Petoskey News-Review report states that out of 146 private well samples, 44 exceeded current regulatory thresholds and 37 had low levels of PFAS.
Since most Pellston residents rely on private wells for their water supply, the presence of harmful chemicals led Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to create a robust response plan and further investigate the cause of the issue.
Why is PFAS contamination concerning?
PFAS are infamously known as “forever chemicals” because they break down very slowly, making their contamination difficult to control. A 2020 study by the American Chemical Society found that more than 200 million Americans could have harmful levels of PFAS in their drinking water. In addition to water, PFAS can also contaminate soil, air, food, and clothing.
Exposure to even extremely low levels of PFAS poses hazardous risks to human health.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to certain levels of PFAS can cause severe disruptions to one’s reproductive system, immune system, or hormone levels. Exposure to PFAS is also linked to abnormal childhood development, an increased risk of some cancers, and increased cholesterol levels.
What’s being done about PFAS contamination?
Based on regional groundwater flow, researchers concluded that Pellston Regional Airport was the source of the area’s PFAS contamination. EGLE holds Emmet County liable for remediating the area’s waters, as noted in the organization’s violation notice to the district.
In 2022, EGLE provided Pellston with an $819,000 grant for the research and development of alternate water sources to aid residents affected by water contamination. In the last year, Pellston completed various evaluations for potential water service areas and solutions. The Michigan government also continues to monitor the area’s PFAS levels and provides bottled water, water vouchers, and filter installations to residents in need.
Another phase of water well resampling in the affected area is under way. Residents can download the EGLE/Health Department of NW Michigan PFAS Sampling Request Form to participate in the upcoming sample.
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