An old Hopi native saying goes, “One shouldn’t pollute his own nest.” Unfortunately, here in Michigan, we should have taken that saying more to heart. Our beautiful Great Lakes, the namesake of our state, are full of toxic chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are used to make things such as fire retardant and non-stick Teflon for cookware.
For years, the military and local government claimed these foam-filled waters were safe for drinking and enjoyment, but in all seriousness, who would want to drink water full of strange chemicals? Because PFAS increases the risk of cancer and interferes with the body’s natural hormones and immune system, the people of Michigan need to take action by voting and writing to their congressmen to not only save the Great Lakes, but our own health and wellness too.
How The Lakes Got PFAS
PFAS is known as a ‘Forever Chemical’– meaning it stays in the ground for years. But how did such a toxic chemical get into the ground, let alone the lakes, in the first place? According to an article by MIlive, PFAS based fire retardant was used for almost every firefighting situation, especially around military sites:
“Firefighters foamed a gasoline tanker truck that crashed at the intersection of M-60 and Pine Lake Street near Niles in April 2016. That created a plume with contaminant concentrations of 394,800 parts-per-trillion at the crash site.”
Besides the intentional use of PFAS for firefighting purposes, MIlive described the many accidental releases of the chemical:
“In Battle Creek, a city firefighter flipped the wrong switch on a crash response truck in 2014 and accidentally sprayed 1,500 gallons of AFFF and water around a gravel road on the Air National Guard base. Topsoil was removed to try and prevent the chemicals from seeping into the groundwater. The spot is now one of 13 areas of AFFF investigation there today.”
With all this use of the PFAS chemical and so little cleanup being done, there’s no question as to how the chemical was able to leak into the Great Lakes via polluted groundwater.
Health Risks of PFAS
But what does this mean for the citizens of Michigan who live near these contaminated areas? Unfortunately, according to Michigan State University Extension, the outlook is bleak. Besides PFAS remaining in the body years after initial exposure, MSU officials state that:
“The ATSDR (ATSDR 2017) has reviewed multiple studies and identified possible effects from exposure to PFAS in water and food, including effects on growth, developmental effects to fetuses, interferences with hormones, increases in cholesterol and immune system effects. Exposure can also lead to increased risk of liver, kidney and testicular cancer.”
Most Polluted in The Country
Worse yet, an article by Michigan Radio names Michigan as the “Current hot spot for the country’s PFAS problem”. The reason for this, states the article, is that Michigan leads the country in the number of PFAS contaminated areas; 28 known contaminated sites in 15 communities. Furthermore, as quoted by Michigan Radio, “Private wells in Michigan have tested as high as 800 times the EPA’s advisory level of 70 parts-per-trillion.”
Besides the severity of the amount of PFAS in Michigan’s wells, the EWG has created a map showing the areas most affected by PFAS across the country, and can be found by clicking here.
Warnings Sounded, But Never Heeded
This is obviously a very disturbing amount of poison in Michigan’s waters. So why hasn’t anyone done anything to help clean the mess and support all the Michiganders affected? It turns out, six years ago, someone indeed did try to warn about the PFAS issue. In a story by MIlive, Robert Delany, a Superfund section specialist and 30-year plus employee at the Michigan Department of Environmental quality, put together a ninety three page report warning about the danger of PFAS contamination in Michigan. Besides filing the report Delaney also had a plan to help clean up the disaster and “get as many people off impacted water as possible.”
If Delaney warned Michigan about the harm PFAS was doing six years ago, why are we just starting to worry about the issue now? Sadly, the MIlive article answers this question with a quote from University of Michigan alumni Richard DeGrandchamp.
“[In Michigan] there was hope a fish consumption advisory on the Au Sable River near Wurtsmith would “break through the silence.” Instead, signs warning anglers not to eat native fish like bluegill were greeted with hostility from Oscoda locals worried about tourism. Stolen signs had to be replaced. Most are still there, although some are peppered with bullet holes.”
So if the people themselves aren’t interested in caring for their own environment, then who is?
Get Out And Vote!
But as a Michigander, I know how important the Great Lakes are to my state, and I believe that with all the information that has recently come out about PFAS, people will be willing to take more action. As opposed to six years ago, we now have proof through the affected communities that PFAS is a serious issue. Better still, we may be given a second chance at protecting our beloved lakes.
In an article by Clean Water Action, two bills, one calling for regulations on the use of PFAS and the other ensuring that the industries that have been manufacturing and using the chemical will be held responsible for the damage, will be on the ballot in the coming election. However, another bill created by the Trump administration, which will prevent Michigan from taking action in cleaning up the mess, is also in the works. That being said, now more than ever it is essential for Michiganders to take action. I encourage everyone in Michigan of voting age to vote on these bills in the coming election and to write to our congressmen on this issue. I know I’ll be at the voting booth this August.
Image Attribute: Pixabay