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Issues Of The Environment: PFAs Contamination Throughout Michigan And In Washtenaw County

Jul 25, 2018

Dr. Rita Loch-Caruso, toxicologist and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan.
Credit University of Michigan School of Public Health / umich.edu

Chemicals known as PFAs have found their way in Washtenaw County's drinking water, and that can lead to numerous health and environmental problems.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair talks about this situation with Dr. Rita Loch-Caruso, toxicologist and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan.


Overview

  • Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs), are a group of chemicals that are resistant to heat, water, and oil.  PFAs have been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an emerging contaminant on the national landscape. 

  • PFAs have been found at low levels both in the environment and in blood samples of the general U.S. population.  These PFAs chemicals are persistent, which means they do not break down in the environment.  They also bioaccumulate, meaning the amount builds up over time in the blood and organs. 

  • According to the CDC, PFAs and related chemicals have been linked to thyroid and liver problems, cancer, fertility issues, and endocrine and hormone dysfunction. 

  • What constitutes a “safe” level of exposure to PFAs has been hotly debated recently.  The EPA issued a health advisory level for two PFAs compounds (PFOS and PFOA) at a combined level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) in 2016, the legal limit in Michigan.      

  • A proposed legal limit of 14 ppt for PFOA has been proposed in other states.  Several public health research studies have concluded that 1ppt should be the legal limit. What is considered an acceptable level may be a matter of where you live.  Environmental activists and legislators in Michigan our calling on the State to take a stronger stand on PFAs contamination.  

  • PFAs have been detected in the Huron River, albeit at levels deemed safe.  According to a2gov.org, the maximum level of these two compounds detected in Ann Arbor’s drinking water in 2017 was 15 ppb, well below the health advisory level.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu