Controlling Industrial PFAS Discharges In Michigan

According to an updated Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis of government data, at least 2,500 industrial facilities across the nation could be discharging PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) into the air and water. But one state that has seen substantial drops in industrial PFAS discharges from electroplaters, paper factories and other polluters, reports EWG, is Michigan. This was achieved in large part to the state setting water quality standards for PFOA and PFOS, “the two most notorious PFAS compounds, for discharges into drinking water supplies,” explains EWG. “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 (WWTPs) to determine whether they were receiving PFOA and PFOS ….. So far, 68 of the 95 WWTPs 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.”

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
Image: molekuul_be/Shutterstock.com

The EWG report notes that in several cases, WWTP operators worked with industrial polluters to make substantial reductions in discharges in PFOS. “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.
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.”

For now, adds EWG, 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 next year will have to test for dozens of different PFAS.

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