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Lawmakers, community members call for action on PFAS

Foam caused by PFAS contamination at one of the many sites in the state where the "forever" chemicals have been found.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Foam caused by PFAS contamination at one of the many sites in the state where the "forever" chemicals have been found.

Community members affected by polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, or PFAS, contamination are continuing to pressure state lawmakers into action.

PFAS are often called “forever chemicals” for the very long time they take to break down.

They appear in common household items like non-stick cookware and have been tied to certain types of cancer.

Sandy Wynn-Stelt co-chairs the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network. She said it’s important to ban further use of the chemicals and hold polluters accountable.

“Polluters that have caused damage to neighborhoods and communities, that have cost us as taxpayers millions and millions of dollars to discover it, to warn people, and to clean this up, it’s not fair as polluters continue to make a fortune off of this,” Wynn-Stelt said at a press conference Tuesday.

Lawmakers say they’re looking at a host of different policies to address PFAS contamination. But so far only a small number of bills have been introduced in the state Senate this Legislative session.

That includes one to ban PFAS use in food packaging. It hasn’t received a committee hearing yet.

Meanwhile, House lawmakers say they hope to introduce their own bills to limit the use of PFAS, stiffen penalties for polluters, and address contaminated runoff in the coming months.

Representative Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) said the first bills in a House package could start dropping in mid-June.

“This is a really complex legislative area deeply entrenched in emerging science that sometimes changes from one week to the next so we are working diligently on that. We want to make sure that we have bills that are ready for consumption,” Hood said Tuesday. She mentioned she expects legislation to continue coming into next year.

Democratic lawmakers have introduced multiple PFAS packages and bills in the past without much success. Now that they have control of the state Legislature, they’re asking for patience.

Representative Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) said it’s not as simple as just reintroducing bills from the past this session.

“Some folks who previously had sat on the sidelines now have really, really helpful information that should be added to those bills and that is great, we want well rounded bills that are going to accomplish what we need them to accomplish but that does create drafting delays,” Pohutsky said.

In the meantime, Democrats are pointing to discussions surrounding the state’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget as another chance for PFAS remediation.

Hood said much of that money would come from federal infrastructure investments. Though there are concerns about how far those dollars would stretch.

“Michigan has spent decades failing to fully fund and invest in the repair and maintenance of our water infrastructure and now on top of that we have a public health crisis that is comprehensive and is touching people in every nook and cranny of the state,” Hood said.

She explained that means funding PFAS remediation is “increasingly complex.”

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