I love my non-stick frying pan, my waterproof hiking boots and the propensity of manufactured items to actively resist stains. I’m just not sure I want those magic, miraculous chemicals that make these modern feats possible in my drinking water.
PFAS (perfluorinated alkylated substances) are a family of synthetic chemicals that have been used in manufacturing and fire-fighting foams. PFAS contamination has been all over the news in Michigan for last few months.
Some PFAS, such as PFOA and PFOS, are persistent organic pollutants that bio-accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals and humans.
The health effects of long-term PFAS exposure are not well understood. PFAS may affect developing fetuses and young children, and increase risk of cancer, kidney disease, thyroid conditions and auto-immune disorders.
In Michigan, PFAS pollution was detected around Air Force bases where the military used special fire fighting foam, and also around manufacturing sites. It showed up in water near the now-closed Rockland, MI Wolverine Worldwide leather tannery. Turns out that the company was leaking Scotchgard-laced chemical waste in the groundwater and river for years.
Water flows, and carries dissolved chemical contamination with it. While it’s only taken 60 years for someone to start looking, water tests revealed PFAS contamination was a much bigger problem than anyone knew. Private landowners discovered high PFAS levels in their wells. Due to high levels of PFAS found in tap water, the city of Parchment had to shut down its municipal water system and start getting water from Kalamazoo.
The City of Ann Arbor gets 85% of its drinking water from the Huron River (Source: Huron River Watershed Council.) Since elevated PFAS levels were detected in 2014, Ann Arbor has been specially filtering its water using granular activated carbon to remove PFAS contamination.
And it’s not just the drinking the water that presents a problem.
The “Do not eat fish” advisories first started showing up for areas closest to the PFAS contamination hotspots, they are now extended to the entire Huron River.
The PFAS contamination of the Huron Watershed has probably been there for awhile – it’s only now that we’re actually looking for it. There are likely to be other point sources that haven’t been identified yet. No one is sure whether the PFAS can be cleaned up and when it will be safe to eat the fish again.
Next time: Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Cyanobacteria blooms on Ford and Belleville Lakes.