How Michigan reduced industrial discharges of PFAS

By Colin O’Neil, Scott Faber and Jared Hayes | The Environmental Working Group | April 28, 2020

Read the full article by Colin O’Neil, Scott Faber and Jared Hayes

“At least 2,500 industrial facilities across the nation could be discharging the toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS into the air and water, according to an updated EWG analysis of government data. But one state has seen substantial drops in industrial PFAS discharges: Michigan. Now other states are learning from Michigan’s success. 

How did Michigan reduce PFAS releases from electroplaters, paper factories and other polluters? 

Michigan set water quality standards for PFOA and PFOS, the two most notorious PFAS compounds, for discharges into drinking water supplies. State law prohibits releases from wastewater utilities of more than 420 parts per trillion, or ppt, for PFOA and 11 ppt for PFOS.

In 2018, state officials required many wastewater treatment plants to determine whether they were receiving PFOA and PFOS, and ultimately discharging the chemicals into rivers and lakes. So far, 68 of the 95 wastewater treatment plants identified by state officials either have no upstream industrial source of PFAS pollution or have industrial sources that discharge PFAS at amounts too low to violate state water quality standards. 

But in several cases, wastewater treatment plant operators worked with industrial polluters to make substantial reductions in discharges in PFOS. Treatment plant operators in Belding, Bronson, Detroit, Howell, Iona, Kalamazoo, Lapeer and Wixom with upstream polluters to reduce discharges by anywhere from 49 percent to 99 percent, according to state records reviewed by EWG. 

Many of those facilities are electroplating companies, which use PFAS to reduce hexavalent chromium vapors during manufacturing. Other companies discharging PFAS in Michigan include chemical manufacturers, plastics makers, auto parts manufacturers, aviation component manufacturers and foundries, among others.

EWG used records from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to identify PFAS dischargers who were suspected of causing wastewater utilities to exceed state water quality standards for PFOS. Among the suspected industrial dischargers identified by the state were General Motors, Ford, Bayer Crop Science, International Paper and BASF. 

In most cases, industrial polluters installed carbon filters to reduce the amount of PFAS being sent to water treatment operators, records show. In some cases, the polluter treated the PFAS-contaminated wastewater before it was sent to the treatment plant. The costs were paid by the –industrial polluters, not the wastewater treatment plants.

Despite these reductions, several wastewater plants still reported releases above the standard set by the state. For now, the permits issued to treatment plant operators will not have limits on PFOA and PFOS discharges. That will change in the next year, when state permits will include strict limits if water quality standards are not being met. So far, wastewater utilities will only have to report PFOA and PFOS detections, but will have to test for dozens of different PFAS. 

Currently there are no restrictions on industrial PFAS discharges under the federal Clean Water Act. In many communities, industrial discharges are the most significant source of PFAS pollution entering drinking water supplies. In January, the House passed the PFAS Action Act (H.R. 535), which would, among other things, establish deadlines for the Environmental Protection Agency to determine how to regulate industrial discharges of PFAS under the Clean Water Act…”

This content provided by the PFAS Project.