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  • Jordan D. Smith

Portland Officials Vigilant for PFAS in Water

PFAS has been in the news statewide in the past year or so since it was found in the drinking water of people living near a former tannery near Rockford, Michigan. Since then the State of Michigan has undertaken a concerted effort to test drinking water statewide for PFAS contamination. Earlier this fall, the City of Portland took part in that effort to preemptively identify contaminated drinking water sources.

According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluroalky substances, are a class of chemical compounds used a variety of industrial and commercial applications. First developed in the 1950s, PFAS they have been used in applications as wide-ranging as fire-fighting foams, stain repellers, cookware, waterproof clothing treatments, polishes, paints, lubricants, and fast food packaging. While many of these compounds have been phased out, other similar compounds remain in use. Over time these compounds accumulate in the environment and because they do not easily degrade build up in the environment through a process called bioaccumulation.

While the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has not established regulations limiting the the levels of PFAS in drinking water, they have issued an advisory lifetime health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). The health effects of PFAS exposure are most serious for infants and children. According to MDEQ, such exposure can affect a child’s learning and development. It can also interfere with natural hormone levels in the body, negatively affect fertility in women, increase cholesterol levels, depress the immune system and increase the risk of some cancers.

Earlier this fall, contractors working with the MDEQ sampled water from the four wells that supply drinking water for the City of Portland. Three are located at the Bogue Flats Recreation Area and one near Portland High School. In late November, results came back clear for all but well #5 which tested at 4 ppt, which according to a release from City officials is, “17 times below the MDEQ standard of 70 ppt.”

According to City Manager Tutt Gorman, “wells #4 and #6 are the frontline wells with #7 being more of a standby well. Well #5 is more of a back-up to a back-up.” Following the test results from the MDEQ, Gorman ordered well #5 be taken offline pending retesting. Confirmation testing by the city engineers, Fleis & VandenBrink (F&V) came back recently with well #5 PFAS levels at 3.2 ppt.

Despite these results, Gorman says that well #5, “will remain off-line indefinitely. PW-5 was taken out of regular service over 20 years ago and since then was only used in emergency and standby situations.”

Asked by the Beacon about possible sources of the contamination, Gorman said that, “one can only speculate; especially since your dealing with such a low level...I have been advised it could be because it (Well 5) is closest to the river or proximity to DPW or related to an underground storage tank that was removed sometime in the 70s or 80s.” Going forward the city plans to continue annual testing for PFAS as well as develop plans to test, “wastewater for PFAS from potential sources that discharge to [the] wastewater treatment plant.” Spurred on by the ongoing concern about PFAS, city officials plan to look at sites for construction of a new municipal well. City manager Gorman says that, “we want to always be looking to the future and planning accordingly. While the statewide PFAS initiative certainly brought increased awareness and concern, the City will always take steps to evaluate and assess its current infrastructure for capital improvement purposes. We do this for the electrical system, wastewater, etc. Providing safe and clean drinking water to the residents of Portland is among the City’s highest priorities.”

Further information can be found at the City of Portland website.

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