Commission candidate calls for swift action on PFAS

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Alex Hansen

Livingston County needs to move swiftly to get on top of the PFAS contamination crisis, according to a Democratic candidate for the Livingston County Board of Commissioners.

Alex Hansen is running for the 5th District Livingston County Commission seat. The district encompasses the City of Howell, as well as the townships of Howell and Cohoctah. He called on the Livingston County Board of Commissioners to begin an investigation into the extent of contamination in the county after it was reported that more than 11,300 sites could be contaminated statewide.

“This crisis struck recently in the Kalamazoo area where my parents, sister, and many of my friends live, but it is by no means confined to that part of the state,” said Hansen, who lives in Howell Township with his wife and infant daughts. “Strong and swift steps must be taken to find out what the situation is in Livingston County.”

A state of emergency was recently declared for Parchment due to the discovery of high levels of PFAS, or per- and polyfluroalkyl compounds, in the water system serving the community. In a release, Hansen said that while the state of emergency made the issue personal for him, he is concerned about all residents of Livingston County as the list of potentially contaminated sites exploded with the latest information released from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Hansen called on the board to require the Livingston County Public Health Department to survey existing businesses, fire departments, and airports to determine which entities have used PFAS-containing chemicals, and to examine the MDEQ data to find sites of possible contamination in the county.

The Michigan DEQ has begun testing all public water supplies and public school water systems for contamination by PFAS, a task expected to be finished by the end of the year. But private wells could be affected, too, so homeowners need to know if their area is at risk.

In a letter to the county commission, Hansen called on it to:

  • Urge the county’s lawmakers to support an investigation into why MDEQ did not release a report about PFAS contamination in Michigan and instead sat on the report for six years preventing communities from taking steps to protect themselves.
  • Survey fire departments, industries, waste-water treatment plants, and airports in the county to determine how much PFAS- containing material they have in their possession and what their protocols are for using it, given the knowledge of the harmful health effects of the chemical.
  • Immediately obtain a list from the MDEQ of potentially contaminated sites in Livingston County, and press the state to prioritize testing those sites based on the likelihood for contamination and the extent of contamination.
  • Press the MDEQ to release testing data on the sites they have tested so far, as well as demanding a schedule for when the remaining sites will be tested.
  • Press local water supplies to test for PFAS to let the public know what risks may be present, so they can take appropriate action.

Early reports about PFAS contamination had focused on areas around military bases in Michigan, but last month, the DEQ made a presentation in Lansing that included maps with more than 11,300 potentially contaminated sites including fire stations, municipal airports, wastewater treatment plants, and industrial sites. The maps show many potential sites in Livingston County.

Fire-fighting foam, non-stick surfaces, and stain guards are among the possible sources of PFAS contamination, but other commercial and industrial uses are also possible sources.

The chemical compounds known as PFAS can damage liver, thyroid, and pancreatic function; affect the growth and learning of infants and children; make it harder for a woman to conceive; raise cholesterol levels; increase cancer risks; and affect the immune system. The chemical compounds can last for many years in the environment, so it is possible that abandoned industrial sites are still sources of contamination.

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The Livingston Post is the only locally owned, all-digital information and opinion site in Livingston County, Mich. It was launched by award-winning journalists who were laid off from the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus by Gannett Co. Inc. in 2009.