LANSING – Despite pleas from community and environmental groups to move forward with draft drinking water standards that would establish testing levels for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, the Environmental Rules Review Committee decided Thursday to table the rules until a special meeting on November 14.

The move comes following some committee members feeling they didn’t have enough information to pull the trigger on establishing drinking water standards with the information provided by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

The special meeting will still fall within the 35-day review period the committee was initially allotted by the state, following submission of the draft rules on October 11. But while the meeting date was unanimously approved, the idea to push the final vote on whether to approve the draft rules for public comment or not was met with mixed opinions from the committee.

Originally, some members proposed voting to send the draft rules to its November 21 regular meeting, which would have fallen outside the purview of the state but would have been possible should the committee have decided it needed more time to consider the standards.

Current draft rules cover seven forms of PFAS and roughly 2,700 public water system operators around the state would be covered by this new rule. The standards were voted on last month and establish maximum contaminant levels based on research gathered through the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (See Gongwer Michigan Report, October 11, 2019).

These include:

  • Setting PFNA at an MCL of 6 ng/L (ppt)
  • Setting PFOA at an MCL of 8 ng/L (ppt)
  • Setting PFHxA at an MCL of 400,000 ng/L (ppt)
  • Setting PFOS at an MCL of 16 ng/L (ppt)
  • Setting PFHxS at an MCL of 51 ng/L (ppt)
  • Setting PFBS at an MCL of 420 ng/L (ppt)
  • Setting GenX at an MCL of 370 ng/L (ppt)

Maximum contamination levels were set based on current technology’s ability to treat water, as EGLE did not wish set too stringent of drinking water standards with which communities had no real ability to comply. Under the draft rules, quarterly testing would occur, and the average would be used to determine if a source is in violation of a chemical’s maximum contamination levels.

Should an extreme outlier be detected, the department would immediately assume the source is in violation of the maximum contamination levels and move on treatment measures accordingly.

A regulatory impact statement submitted by EGLE listed the cost for sampling and analysis of drinking water sources at $6.4 million and treatment installation at $7.4 million, with operation and management costs of treatment equipment estimated at $326,000 annually.

This was a sticking point for some on the committee, who questioned if rural communities could afford to stay in compliance with these regulations.

“For me the driver is drinking water. Period,” said Helen Taylor (I-Okemos), representing a statewide land conservancy organization. “These are draft rules. It’s time to get these public. We’re only kicking the can down the road for a few weeks.”

While the end goal for the committee is drinking water quality, Taylor said even baby steps forward still counted a progress made and even if the group had more time to consider fiscal impacts to the state, the PFAS crisis was “not going to be solved in a few weeks.”

Committee member Jeremy Orr (D-Detroit) added that the longer the group delayed bringing the draft rules public “the longer we expose low income communities to chemicals” in drinking water.

It was a sentiment echoed by many during public comment, including Charlotte Jameson, program director for legislative affairs, energy and drinking water with the Michigan Environmental Council. Borrowing Taylor’s phrase,  Jameson said the move only further serves to “kick the can down the road, effectively holding these critical protections hostage.”

“As we predicted when this legislation passed in 2018, a review panel stacked with industry representatives with conflicts of interest has needlessly delayed critical public health protections for our drinking water,” she said in a statement Thursday following the meeting. “Michigan is facing a public health crisis in the form of drinking water contaminated by highly toxic PFAS and Michiganders are calling out for stronger protections for their health and well-being.”

Other groups in favor of advancing the rules to a statewide public comment period included the Michigan Farm Bureau, the Sierra Club, the Ecology Center and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

“At a time when communities across the state are grappling with toxic PFAS contamination in their drinking water, the frustrating action today only bogs down and delays action on aggressively setting standards to protect the health of our families,” Bob Allison, LCV deputy director, said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to take swift action and treat this water contamination problem with the urgency it deserves. Today’s delay by the Environmental Rules Review Committee again emphasizes why this body is an unnecessary, additional layer of bureaucracy, which is why we opposed its creation a year ago.”

This story was published in Gongwer News Service