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Issues Of The Environment: Lame Duck Bill May Lead To Challenges In Protecting Michigan’s Water

Jan 16, 2019

Bonnifer Ballard, executive director of the Michigan section of the American Water Works Association
Credit Courtesy Photo / MI-AWWA

Protecting Michigan's drinking water has becoming even more of a priority in the past year.  However, during the Michigan Legislature's lame-duck session, former Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a measure making protection more difficult. In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair talks about this legislation, and its impacts, with Bonnifer Ballard, executive director of the American Water Works Association's Michigan section.


Overview

  • Newly elected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer may face challenges in delivering on her campaign promises to protect and clean up Michigan’s water.

 

  • On one of his last days in office, outgoing Gov. Snyder signed a bill into law (House Bill 4205) that make it much more difficult for state agencies to adopt and enforce laws that are stricter than the federal government regarding regulation of allowable amounts of pollutants in water.

 

  • Among those who support this bill are business associations, including the Michigan Manufacturers Association and the Farm Bureau, who argue that having standards that vary state to state creates an unequal footing for businesses in states with stricter standards.

 

  • Bonnifer Ballard, Executive Director, Michigan Section, American Water Works Association (MI-AWWA), believes that this bill may result in dangerous conditions for the public health. Many environmental groups fear that the federal regulations have not kept pace with the latest science regarding what constitutes a hazard.

 

  • In Washtenaw County, 1,4 dioxane (a known carcinogen contaminating the groundwater on much of the county’s westside) is moving toward the Huron River and the source of Ann Arbor’s drinking water. It has already been detected in private wells near the origin of the pollution plume.

 

  • The EPA’s “danger level” for 1,4 dioxane is 0.35 ppb which the EPA equates to a 1 in a million increased lifetime cancer risk, with 3.5ppb as an estimated 1 in a 1000 cancer risk. In late 2017, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality adopted a standard for 1,4 dioxane of 7.2 parts per billion (down from 85ppb), which is nearly twice as high as the EPA limit. However, some states believe the science points to even 1ppb as being a risk to human health. Should Michigan want to follow suit, that would now be impossible, unless an agency proves a “clear and convincing” need due to “exceptional circumstances.”

 

  • In addition to 1,4 dioxane, this bill will pose a challenge should Michigan want to enact a level for PFAS that is lower than the EPA’s limit in drinking water of 70ppt for PFOA and PFOS combined, a hotly debated number. Currently, the EPA has no limit for nearly 4,000 additional PFAS chemicals. Ann Arbor’s water is already contaminated with PFAS, and the city is working diligently to remove as much as possible. However, no technology can remove all PFAS at this time.

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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