89.1 WEMU

Issues Of The Environment: The Huron River, PFAS Contamination, And You

Mar 27, 2019

"Do Not Eat Fish Advisory" Sign
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons / wikipedia.org

The Spring recreation season is upon us and one of the most popular destinations is the Huron River.  But, you'll see an increasing number of signs along the waterway warning you not to eat the fish.  That's because of PFAS contamination.  In WEMU's 'Issues of the Environment,' get the latest on the health of the river, and how it affects you for the spring and summer ahead from Huron River Watershed Council executive director, Laura Rubin.   


Overview

  • The Do Not Eat' Fish Advisory issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) last August was extended in March to include all parts of the Huron River. It now extends from N. Wixom Rd. in Oakland County all the way to where the river empties into Lake Erie.

  • PFAS (an acronym for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are toxic, synthetic, chemicals. The PFAS family of chemicals contains more than 4700 similar contaminants. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) are most commonly addressed in the media.
  • PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they are persistent, meaning they do not break down in the environment. They also bioaccumulate, which means they build up in tissues and organs over time. Human exposure to PFAS has been linked to:

    • decreased fertility and low birth weights in newborns

    • behavioral disorders in children

    • increased cholesterol levels

    • thyroid, kidney, liver, and immune dysfunction

    • cancer

  • The EPA issues advisory guidelines for PFAS, but federal regulations do not limit PFAS pollution, and it is not banned.

  • This extension is a result of new perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) fish data from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Base Line Lake and Argo Pond fish fillet data, downstream from Kent Lake, were found to have high PFOS levels. Additionally, high PFOS surface water levels were found upstream of Kent Lake.

  • Laura Rubin, Executive Director of the Huron River Watershed Council, encourages swimmers, paddlers, and boaters to enjoy recreation on the Huron River and connected lakes, as PFAS is not readily transferred through skin. PFAS concentrates in foam, and it should not be ingested by people or pets. Until the MDHHS advisory is lifted, fishing should be strictly catch and release.

MDHHS ‘Do Not Eat' Fish Advisory - Updated March 21, 2019

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued an expanded ‘Do Not Eat’ fish advisory for all fish in the Huron River in Livingston, Oakland, Washtenaw, Wayne, and Monroe Counties. The original advisory was issued on Saturday, August 4, 2018.

The ‘Do Not Eat’ advisory for the Huron River starts where N Wixom Rd crosses in Oakland County and extends downstream to the mouth of the Huron River as it enters Lake Erie in Wayne County. This includes:

Norton Creek (Oakland County)

Hubbell Pond, also known as Mill Pond (Oakland County)

Kent Lake (Oakland County)

Ore Lake (Livingston County)

Strawberry & Zukey Lake (Livingston County)

Gallagher Lake (Livingston County)

Loon Lake (Livingston County)

Whitewood Lakes (Livingston County)

Base Line & Portage Lakes (Livingston/Washtenaw County line)

Barton Pond (Washtenaw County)

Geddes Pond (Washtenaw County)

Argo Pond (Washtenaw County)

Ford Lake (Washtenaw County)

Bellville Lake (Wayne County)

 

This extension is a result of new perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) fish data from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Base Line Lake and Argo Pond fish fillet data, downsteam from Kent Lake, were found to have high PFOS levels. Additionally, high PFOS surface water levels were found upstream of Kent Lake.

Touching the fish or water and swimming in these water bodies is not considered a health concern as PFAS do not move easily through the skin. An occasional swallow of river or lake water is also not considered a health concern.

For current guidelines relating to PFAS fish contamination, visit michigan.gov/pfasresponse. For more information about the Eat Safe Fish guidelines, visit michigan.gov/eatsafefish.

 

AN OVERVIEW OF PFAS IN WASHTENAW COUNTY

The EPA issues advisory guidelines for PFAS, but federal regulations do not limit PFAS pollution, and it is not banned. 

PFAS in drinking water is not regulated by federal law. So far, public drinking water in the Huron River Watershed has tested as below the EPA advisory level of 70 parts per trillion. Michigan law accepted this level as “safe to drink” in 2018. However, the CDC has suggested that the standard is too high and should be lowered to 10 ppt. Concerned residents on private wells should contact their county health departments.

 

PFAS are widespread in Michigan and have been found in the Huron River. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued a “Do Not Eat Fish” advisory for the entire Huron River in 2018, and fish from the river and connected bodies should not be consumed. Swimming in water containing PFAS is considered safe. PFAS concentrates in foam, so do not ingest river foam. For current guidelines relating to PFAS fish contamination, visit Michigan.gov/pfasresponse.

 

PFAS has been used in consumer products and manufacturing since the 1950s. They are still being used to produce many common products including:

  • Non-stick cookware coated with Teflon and other synthetic treatments

  • Cleaning products, paints, varnishes, sealants, and waxes (look for “fluoro” ingredients)

  • Cosmetics, personal care products, and dental floss (look for “PTFE”)

  • Food packaging materials, including fast food packaging

  • Stain resistant carpet and fabric treatments; water-resistant clothing

  • Firefighting foam

 

 

On Tuesday, March 26th, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer directed the state's Department for Environmental Quality to develop drinking water standards for certain toxic industrial chemicals rather than waiting for updated federal guidelines. Whitmer announced the rules will cover chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The Democrat says in a statement that Michigan has ``long advocated that the federal government establish national standards'' and can't wait any longer.

Whitmer says she's directing the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team to form a science advisory workgroup to review existing and proposed health-based drinking water standards from around the nation. She wants interested parties to give input by October 1st.  

The chemicals were long used in firefighting, waterproofing, carpeting and other products. They've been identified at sites around the state.

To stay up to date on PFAS in Washtenaw County, please listen to WEMU’s coverage on 89.1 FM during “Issues of the Environment” and the “Green Room”. Have questions? Contact the Michigan PFAS Response Action Team | Michigan Environmental Assistance Center (MDEQ): (800) 662-9278.

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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