AG Nessel urges Senate action to improve federal regulation of toxic PFAS

Photo of Angela Mulka
FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, file photo, Dana Nessel announces her decision to run for Michigan attorney general, during a news conference at Braun Court in Ann Arbor, Mich.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, file photo, Dana Nessel announces her decision to run for Michigan attorney general, during a news conference at Braun Court in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Photo provided/AP

On Wednesday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of 19 attorneys general urging the U.S. Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee to take action on federal health and environmental protections to address per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS.

PFAS, called "forever chemicals" because they last so long in the environment, have been associated with serious health conditions, including cancer, reduced antibody responses to vaccines, reduced birth weight and possibly more, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The chemical bonds are so strong that they don’t degrade or do so only slowly in the environment and remain in a person’s bloodstream indefinitely.

They are especially known for being used in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics and some firefighting foams, according the agency.

Jim Starr, president of Absolute Golf Ball Retrieval in Utica and a former firefighter, says he knows multiple fire fighting buddies that have developed cancer by essentially swimming in fire retardant foam containing PFAS for years when extinguishing flames on the job.

As of Nov. 12, 2021, there are 193 PFAS sites in Michigan, according to Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy's Michigan PFAS site map.

Michigan is already hard at work addressing PFAS contamination, according to a press release from Nessel's office, as the chemicals are present across the state due to Michigan's strong manufacturing history.

According to the release, Michigan is a national leader in responding to PFAS contamination and has established the multi-agency Michigan PFAS Action Response Team to identify contamination in the environment and protect Michigan residents from exposures.

Through MPART's work, Michigan has adopted enforceable PFAS standards for drinking water and groundwater, in addition to water quality standards for two of the most common PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid.

"We are already hard at work in Michigan investigating and addressing PFAS contamination," Nessel said in the release. "But our efforts here in Michigan will be strengthened by congressional action to regulate these harmful chemicals and fund needed research and study of their effects."

In a letter addressed to EPW leadership, the coalition argues that the serious dangers posed by PFAS, combined with the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars that coalition states are currently spending to protect residents from these dangers, call for swift congressional action, according to the release.

In their letter, the coalition is urging the EPW Committee to "pass or build on" the bipartisan PFAS Action Act of 2021, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in July. Specifically, the letter identifies several legislative priorities of the coalition states, including:

  • Promoting the prompt and effective cleanup of PFAS by designating the chemicals as "hazardous substances" under the federal Superfund law,
  • Protecting public health by designating PFAS as "hazardous air pollutants" under the federal Clean Air Act and prohibiting the unsafe incineration of the chemicals,
  • Protecting public health by establishing national drinking water standards for PFAS and controlling PFAS discharges,
  • Providing funding for drinking water suppliers to reduce PFAS concentrations in public drinking water supplies,
  • Providing funding to states to protect against and respond to PFAS contamination,
  • Making medical screening available to all U.S. Department of Defense personnel and members of the public who may have been exposed to elevated levels of PFAS, and
  • Prohibiting the use and limiting the storage of PFAS-containing firefighting foam at federal facilities.

As Nessel urges the Senate to take action on PFAs at the federal level, Michigan's EGLE is expanding its testing capacity for monitoring the chemicals and should start using the new equipment in 2022.

For several years, EGLE’s state laboratory in Lansing has been able to check only drinking water for PFAS contamination. With the new equipment, testing can now expand to include surface water, groundwater, wastewater and soil, which makes taking action on the chemicals easier and helps Michigan stay a leader in PFAS action response, according to reporting by Great Lakes Echo

Joining Nessel in sending the letter are the attorneys general of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

For a comprehensive listing of PFAS sites and areas of interest, visit here.