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2 Michigan Communities Told To Stop Using Contaminated Water

July 27, 2018 - 12:20 pm

PARCHMENT, Mich. (WWJ/AP) - The residents of two southwestern Michigan communities have been told to stop using their water for drinking or cooking after the discovery of high amounts of industrial chemicals.

Michigan and Kalamazoo County health officials announced Thursday that the water supply of the city of Parchment and Cooper Township, about 125 miles west of Detroit, is contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS -- at levels up to 70-times higher than federal safety standards.

PFAS have been detected in water systems in some 30 states. They are used in manufacturing, firefighting and thousands of household and consumer products. Many communities have reported high PFAS levels in water systems near military bases and factories that worked with the compounds.

Mark Ducharme, with the U.S. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said the contamination's source is under investigation.  

"We're trying to develop a well-crafted, well thought out, expedited and swift action to be able to go out and sample the wells that we believe that there may be somc concern,"  Ducharme told reporters at a news conference Friday. "So we are working on that plan right now; we hope to have a plan later today."

"The other thing we're also trying to figure out at this point and time is we want to know where PFAS compunds may have been made or used in the area."

Authorities say boiling water or using common residential filters won't remove PFAS.  Although people can bathe and wash clothes in the water, officials are advising people not to use Parchment's water system for making baby formula or rinsing fruits and vegetables. 

"We do know that the source of PFAS as a contaminate is there," Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller said. "Our process is to try to understand what that looks like. We don't know the significance, or how far is this spread out. 

"We do not know at this time how long this process will take," he added. "But residents will not be connected back to the city of Parchment's water supply until it is approved, and that we're sure that it's safe for consumption/"

As a short-term fix, Jim Rutherford, with Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services, said the water system will soon be connected to the nearby Kalamazoo water supply to flush out the pipeline.

Gov. Rick Snyder late Thursday directed state officials to assist the around 3,000 people who are on the water system.

"As soon as the tests results were reported, the state and local agencies tasked with protecting public health and our environment began coordinating a response," Snyder said in a statement.

Free bottled water is being provided, with more than 3,000 cases handed out Friday.

Parchment Mayor Robert Britigan said distribution will continue until the issue is resolved and the water is deemed safe. 

"I'm just amazed at how this community has come together," he told reporters Friday. "It takes a village, and we are that village, and we want our residents, our citizens to know that we're gonna get to the bottom of this -- but right now we are on top of it."

Some studies suggest PFAS might affect fetal development, disrupt hormonal functions, damage fertility and immune systems, and boost the risk of cancer.

A June report by the Department of Health and Human Services' toxicology office said the PFAS family of chemicals is more toxic than previously believed, threatening human health at concentrations seven to 10 times lower than once realized. As a draft of the report circulated among Trump administration officials earlier this year, a White House email released under a public records request described the findings as a "potential public relations nightmare."

In Michigan, the Legislature enacted $23 million in emergency spending to address PFAS contamination as efforts continued to help the city of Flint recover from its crisis with lead-tainted water.

The tests for PFAS were part of an effort announced in May to check for contamination in Michigan's 1,380 public water systems.

Learn more about PFAS, what Michigan is doing about it, and possible associated health concerns, HERE.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.