PFAS is the acronym for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Newly recognized nationwide as contaminants of concern, PFAS compounds have been identified in groundwater and surface water in several locations across Michigan. Given this emerging health concern, Westshore employees are working to understand the science behind the threat to better serve our clients and our community. If you have questions about PFAS, PFOA, PFOS, C8, or related compounds, or are required to develop and conduct PFAS source evaluation and reduction, Westshore can help.

Background information

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has recently issued drinking water criteria for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), two PFAS compounds. The legal limit for PFOA and PFOS combined in a residential or nonresidential drinking water sample is 0.07 μg/L (70 parts per trillion). While the potential for health effects from PFASs in humans is not well understood, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports the most consistent findings from human epidemiology studies are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer (for PFOA), and thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS). Animal studies suggest the risk for cancer with long term exposure to either compound.

PFASs are used in firefighting foams, food packaging, and cleaning products as well as in industries such as plating, tanneries, or clothing manufacturers, where water proofing or a protective film is required. They have recently been detected in residential wells in northern Kent County, likely related to chemicals used by Wolverine, a Rockford-based shoemaker. Wolverine dumped process waste materials containing PFASs at numerous locations throughout the area and spread waste sludge on nearby farm fields. While Wolverine brought this issue to our attention locally, PFOS and PFOA have recently shown up elsewhere in Michigan, including near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Iosco County and near Camp Grayling in northern Michigan. The chemicals were used there in firefighting foams. The MDEQ is currently investigating the potential for PFAS at airports and wastewater treatment facilities state-wide.

PFAS compounds are extremely stable (they break down very slowly in the environment) and soluble (they transfer easily through soil to groundwater), making them unlike many long-recognized environmental contaminants scientists are familiar with. They also have bioaccumulative and toxic properties in humans and wildlife, and they tend to accumulate at the interface between air and water where they are visible as a foam. It is not known how prevalent PFAS contamination is, simply because these compounds have not been included in testing at most known sites of contamination. Because PFAS compounds behave differently in the environment than most long-recognized contaminants, they will likely be found in places that are not expected.