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Proposed PFAS drinking water regulations include GenX chemical

PFAS foam on the Huron River.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Michigan could be among the first states to regulate a chemical known as GenX. It’s one of seven members of the PFAS family of compounds named by the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team, or MPART, as potentially requiring a maximum contaminant level for drinking water.

Michigan is no stranger to PFAS compounds, with contamination sites all around the state. Research has shown that PFAS is tough to absorb and stays in the body for a long time, leading to long-term health detriments to reproductive and developmental health, liver and kidneys, and the immune system. According to the EPA, GenX is “a trade name for a technology that is used to make high performance fluoropolymers (e.g. some nonstick coatings) without the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).” GenX specifically hasn’t received as much attention, in part because there hasn’t been substantial evidence of its presence in Michigan so far.

Anna Reade is a researcher with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She says even if there has been no evidence of GenX is Michigan so far, using the EPA’s testing methods could yield different results.

“The more you test for it, the more you find. Companies that use these chemicals don’t have to report their usage, so it’s possible GenX could be present in Michigan and we just don’t know it yet.” She says she hopes Michigan goes ahead with the decision to regulate GenX, saying, “There are no regulations on GenX now, so companies that use GenX have no responsibility to regulate it. If it’s not there already, communities could still be at risk from future use.” 


Scott Dean is with the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. He says the list of compounds for regulation hasn’t yet been finalized.


“We have yet to decide whether to add GenX to a required list of compounds in these rules, but it's something we're looking at very closely. It's a fairly new compound and we don't have a lot of data regarding its presence in Michigan. We don’t believe it’s a very common PFAS in the state of Michigan at this time. That could change, of course, but based on the fact that there were no manufacturers of GenX in Michigan leads us to believe that it may not be as prevalent as some of the other PFAS compounds.”


He says MPART and EGLE plan on using the EPA’s new method of testing to learn more about GenX and the other PFAS compounds in Michigan’s drinking water.


“We're having lots of stakeholder meetings to look at things like treatment feasibility. Some of these compounds like GenX are actually quite difficult to capture. The smaller the carbon chains on these compounds, the more difficult they are to capture with things like carbon treatment.” He says a number of factors go into the process, saying, “We need to consult with the technical experts, the utilities that provide drinking water; we need to talk to business, we need to talk to environmental and health experts to really determine what’s feasible in terms of rule-making.”


The full proposed list with each part per trillion is PFNA: 6-ppt PFOA: 8-ppt PFOS: 16-ppt PFHxS: 51-ppt PFBS: 420-ppt PFHxA: 400,000-ppt GenX: 370-ppt. Dean says EGLE hopes to have drinking water values and regulations set by early 2020.

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