The “Do Not Eat Fish” advisory will continue on the Huron River and Chain of Lakes for the foreseeable future as new fish samples from Portage Lake showed high levels of PFAS contamination. This follows reports of even higher PFAS contamination in fish tested from Baseline Lake. The warning includes all the lakes on the chain that are connected by the Huron River: Kent Lake and Hubbell Pond in Oakland County, and locally Strawberry, Zukey, Gallagher, Whitewood and “Little Whitewood,” Long Lake, Baseline and Portage. Little Portage Lake is not included in the advisory at this time.
On Thursday, a panel of representatives from MDEQ and the City of Wixom, brought together by the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC) and featuring its executive director Laura Rubin, discussed the latest efforts to test for and mitigate PFAS contamination recently discovered in the Huron River. This family of chemicals, found in thousands of household products from carpeting and waterproof and stain-resistant fabrics to cookware, has been associated with several health risks when they are consumed in high concentrations.
The main source of the contamination in the Huron has been determined to be Tribar Manufacturing in Wixom, although additional sites of concern have been identified as the former Kelsey Hayes manufacturing facility and the former Coe Cleaners, both in Milford, and discharging PFAS into Pettibone Creek which feeds into the Huron. Both sites have ongoing clean-up efforts managed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), although PFAS was not a focus of either of these clean-ups. In fact, MDEQ was surprised to find indications of PFAS contamination at the sites, particularly at Coe Cleaners.
The elevated levels being found at these sites is a bit of a mystery that the MDEQ is working to solve. According to Stephanie Kammer, who serves as the Huron River Watershed PFAS project manager for MDEQ, manufacturing plants stopped using PFOS-based suppressants in their facilities by 2015 and often earlier; the high levels now being detected in their waste- and storm-water discharge is puzzling since the chemical is no longer being used. MDEQ is continuing to conduct testing and analysis to narrow the source of the contaminants and assist facilities in pre-treatment.
Tribar, meanwhile, is installing an activated-carbon filter as soon as Oct. 5, 2018, to remove contaminants from its wastewater before it makes its way to Wixom’s wastewater treatment plant, where treated wastewater is discharged into Norton Creek and thus to the Huron River. This industrial pre-treatment should bring the level of PFAS to under the recommended 70 ppt (parts per trillion) not only at the source but also at downstream locations. The community is also trying to implement programs that help keep contaminates like plastics out of the water and converting them to things like marine and coastal recovered plastic material yarn.
Hamburg Township recently sent a letter to MDEQ asking that the plant be shut down until a clean-up is completed, and several members of the audience displayed signs “Shut It Down,” but Kammer and Tracy Kecskemeti, leader for MDEQ’s Southeast Michigan PFAS regional team, indicated that it is not that simple. Both cited that this was not an “intentional dumping,” and Kecskemeti explained that “Ideally we want it stopped immediately, but in reality we need to work with companies to address the situation appropriately.”
Several panel members noted that Tribar had been extremely cooperative, and the process had moved quickly — just a few months — to address the problem and implement a solution.
MDEQ emphasized that, unlike recent drinking water contamination issues in Parchment near Kalamazoo, over 1,000 municipal water supplies and schools have been tested and have not shown levels of PFAS above 70 ppt — in fact, most have tested at “non-detectable” levels (MDEQ testing results page here).
However, there IS no drinking water standard for this contaminant, a point made by Rubin of HRWC.
“HRWC is really trying to understand the gravity and extent of this threat,” she said, while working with the state and other agencies to stop the pollution, find funds for clean-up, and encourage transparency and establishment of drinking water standards for the state.
During the question-and-answer period at the end of the meeting, one question submitted by many in the standing-room-only audience was whether home wells be tested? Kecskemeti, referred concerned residents to MDEQ’s website for information on approved filters and labs that offer testing services.
“We have guidance on the site for homeowners who want to collect their own samples, but it’s a lengthy process,” she warned.
It’s also not cheap — MLive reported in 2017 (and cited in this TLP article) that such testing can cost up to $1,800. The information on filters can be found here; for testing, contact the DEQ Environmental Assistance Center at 800-662-9278.
Additional information on MDEQ and PFAS can be found here .
The Huron River Watershed Council has information on their site as well, and will post video of the October 4 meeting as soon as it is available.
Meanwhile, don’t eat any fish caught in the Huron River and the Huron Chain of Lakes. And although swimming season is over, and PFAS is not known to move easily through skin, there is much that continues to be unknown about repeated exposure to this contaminant.