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MDEQ: Alerting public to PFAS tests during Flint crisis would have been irrelevant, irresponsible

the flint river
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Dean said the Environmental Protection Agency has testing data for finished drinking water in Flint throughout 2014 which shows non-detections for PFAS.


Yesterday, MLive's Ron Fonger published a story detailing what the state knew about PFAS levels in the Flint River before the city switched its water source. 

It pointed to a 2015 report authored by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that showed samples taken from the Flint River in 2011 and 2013 had high levels of PFAS contamination.

PFAS—per and polyfluoroalkyl substances—are a family of chemicals that were used in a wide range of products since the 1940s. Exposure to PFAS has been tied to various health problems including cancers and damage to the thyroid and liver.

This revelation has caused a great deal of outrage since it means that state officials had knowledge of the chemical contamination at least a year before the decision to switch Flint's drinking water source to the Flint River.

But the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says some crucial details have been overlooked.  First, the samples from the Flint River which showed high levels of chemical contamination were taken downriver from the intakes for Flint's drinking water system — a distinction that we made a point to emphasize in our interview with Senator Ananich about the MLive investigation. 

Scott Dean is the communications director for the MDEQ. He joined Stateside’s Cynthia Canty to discuss why these testing results were not brought to the attention of Flint City officials. 

Dean said these 2013 surface water tests were taken 26 miles downstream from the city’s intake, and did not translate to a PFAS exceedance in drinking water at that time. In addition, Dean said the Environmental Protection Agency has testing data for finished drinking water in Flint throughout 2014, and those results show no detection of PFAS. 

“To bring it (PFAS) up during the Flint response of 2014 and '15 would have been absolutely irrelevant, and frankly irresponsible, because it would have diverted attention away from the real issue — because PFAS certainly was not an issue at that point,” Dean said. 

Listen above to hear Dean discuss recent upstream surface water data and public trust in the MDEQ. 

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Sophie Sherry. 

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