Press Release

Slash Allowable Levels of PFAS in Michigan’s Drinking Water: NRDC Analysis

Extensive Review of PFAS Science Justifies Urgent Action to Protect Health

Margie Kelly
mkelly@nrdc.org, 541-222-9699

LANSING, MI – Less than a week after Governor Whitmer called for state agencies to act on PFAS chemicals contaminating the state’s water, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released an extensive scientific analysis that supports establishing strict standards for these chemicals in drinking water. Based on a two-year review of PFAS scientific literature, NRDC urged Michigan to act quickly to set new drinking water standards to protect public health from these toxic chemicals. If the recommendations are adopted, Michigan would have the nation’s strongest PFAS drinking water protections in the nation.

“The science is clear: these dangerous chemicals are linked to cancer and other serious health impacts. They’re especially dangerous for pregnant moms and kids. Hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents are exposed to health risks with every glass of water they drink. Michigan’s leaders are right to take swift action to slash the allowable levels of these dangerous chemicals in drinking water to protect public health,” said Erik D. Olson, NRDC’s Senior Director for Health & Food. 

NRDC’s report recommends that Michigan immediately act to protect drinking water, reduce risks to the public, and remediate contaminated drinking water from PFAS chemicals. Specifically, the state should adopt a stringent standard for five PFAS chemicals: PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, and GenX. While the current unenforceable federal “Health Advisory” is set at a non-health protective 70 parts per trillion (ppt), NRDC proposed Michigan set a maximum combined concentration of 2 ppt for the four PFAS chemicals PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS; GenX should be set at 5 ppt. Michigan should also immediately set a health-based goal of zero for all PFAS chemicals in drinking water and, within two years, the State should determine a treatment technology and establish a “treatment technique” standard to effectively remove the full class of thousands of PFAS substances in water.

“Drinking water should be healthy for you, not harmful. Yet, clear and mounting scientific evidence demonstrates there’s a link between PFAS exposure in water, even at low doses, and serious illnesses, including cancer and adverse immunological, developmental and reproductive effects. The prevalence and toxicity of these chemicals demands urgent action to safeguard public health and safety,” said Dr. Anna Reade, a staff scientist at NRDC. 

Dr. Reade led NRDC’s detailed review of PFAS contamination in Michigan and elsewhere, and the health risks associated with PFAS exposure in drinking water. In addition to protecting drinking water by lowering the maximum level standard for PFAS chemicals in drinking water, NRDC’s report issued today recommends Michigan take additional steps to protect groundwater, expand data collection and transparency, and explore the safest disposal method for waste created from treating contaminated drinking water.

PFAS contamination is at crisis levels in Michigan, and is a serious threat to the drinking water found in communities across the nation. More than 1.4 million people in Michigan get their water from water systems in which PFAS contamination was found by the state in 2018.  Just two members of this class of toxic chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, are known to be present in the drinking water across the country serving at least 6 million people at levels exceeding EPA’s unenforceable Health Advisory limit. Communities serving tens of millions of Americans likely have PFAS in drinking water at levels as much as hundreds of times higher than what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and independent scientists consider safe— a level far lower than what EPA has stated is acceptable.

Used in Teflon cookware, and aqueous firefighting foam, PFAS are ubiquitous in the environment and are called “forever” chemicals as they do not break down easily.  In addition to drinking water, these chemicals are found in food packaging, clothing, carpets, furniture and cosmetics. There are at least 4,700 PFAS chemicals in the class that have been cleared for use.

Additional Resources:
Michigan Should Establish Precedent-Setting PFAS Water Standards (blog by Erik Olson & Dr. Anna Reade)
To read about NRDC’s recommended actions on PFAS, here is a blog by Erik Olson.
The U.S. EPA’s plan is here.
For EPA’s prior announcements on PFAS management, see here.
For more information, Erik Olson’s recent written testimony on PFAS to a House subcommittee is here and his presentation at the EPA PFAS Summit is here,

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC

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