MICHIGAN — Several community members who have been impacted by the toxic chemical PFAS met virtually Tuesday afternoon to introduce policy recommendations to lawmakers.
“We joined together with environmental and conservation organizations to create a unified voice for strong, protective policies that protect people, communities, waterways, and wildlife from PFAS exposure and contamination,” said Tony Spaniola at the start of the meeting. “Communities across our state and virtually every region from Belmont to Traverse City; from Ann Arbor to Alpena; from Oscoda to Flint to Dearborn and Detroit are grappling with contamination from these chemicals.”
Spaniola is co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network, an organization dedicated to preventing communities from being impacted by PFAS or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
“PFAS chemicals are in all of the Great Lakes and in the drinking water of at least two million Michiganders,” he said during the Zoom meeting. “Virtually everyone in Michigan and across the nation has PFAS chemicals in their blood.”
Sandy Wynn Stelt knows this firsthand.
Wynn Stelt said she lives across the street from a former dump site of Wolverine Worldwide in Belmont. It’s where they disposed tannery waste.
She recalled that when she moved in years ago, she and all her neighbors thought it was a Christmas tree farm. However, they later discovered PFAS-contaminated waste had been buried under "many, many acres," which polluted 25 square miles of their community, she said.
“We didn't know that. We drank this water. We let kids play in the sprinklers; we played in the rivers and the creeks and the lakes nearby. We drink this water assuming it was good and safe. I worry about how many other communities in our state are drinking the water,” Wynn Stelt said, who’s the co-chair of GLPAN. “I had no plans on becoming a community activist. But, after my husband died of cancer, I saw the damage that this class of chemicals did to not only my family but my neighbors and my community. So, after getting my own diagnosis of cancer a year ago, I decided I had to really speak out and speak out urgently.”
So, the group presented a few policy recommendations to lawmakers like transparency from the government when PFAS are discovered in communities, more health and blood testing for all communities — including low-income areas — and passing legislation to prohibit the sale of “PFAS-containing products for nonessential use."
“We need to have PFAS warning labels on consumer packages and products because I think if we knew that it was in there, we can really make an impact as a consumer,” she said. “Finally, we need to reduce contamination risk from disposal facilities. We have waste incinerators. They shouldn't be allowed to burn waste containing PFAS chemicals.”
Funding was also a hot topic. Robb Kerr, a resident of Ann Arbor who says PFAs have been discovered in the water supply there in 2014, said what’s needed now is "robust and rigorous testing and bio monitoring" and to invest in more research to identify its impact on humans and animals.
“We need to improve mapping and monitoring of contaminated lands and waters that involves appropriate funding for statewide geological surveys to understand PFAs-discharge locations, impacted air, land, water, fish and wildlife across the region to fully capture all the sources of impact and locations,” Kerr said. “This must be coupled with the increased funding to expand fast monitoring and testing per service water and gravel.”
GLPAN was scheduled to meet with lawmakers in Lansing at the Capitol building and testify about the impact of PFAs. However, they held it virtually and are determined to make sure lawmakers hear their message, which is to ultimately prevent PFAs from affecting anyone else.
“In the history of the PFAs crisis, the most important changes in policy, science, and awareness have come from impacted people. Not technocrats, not bureaucrats, but ordinary impacted people,” Spaniola said. “That's who we are, and make no mistake we're here to drive change, a change that will last for generations to come, that will preserve our Great Lakes heritage and that will make our state a better place to live.”