PFAS regulations: U-M experts available to comment
EPA officials have proposed the first federal limits on PFAS levels in drinking water. University of Michigan experts are available to comment.
PFAS represents a group of more than 3,000 chemicals, two of the most widely used being perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate. Most share the common traits of collecting in our bodies and our environment, and being difficult to break down once they’re there.
Proposed regulations would limit PFAS to the lowest levels that can be detected. Long-term exposure has been linked to a variety of health issues, including cancer.
Justin Colacino is an associate professor of environmental health sciences. His Colacino Lab researches the link between environmental toxins, stem cells and cancer. He is a co-investigator on the Michigan Cancer and Research on the Environment Study (MI-CARES), which will study 100,000 participants from across the country and is funded by a $13 million grant from the National Cancer Institute.
“As a toxicologist who studies the health effects of chemicals, including PFAS, on the development of cancer, I am very glad to see the new proposed PFAS drinking water regulations from the EPA,” he said. “Communities across the world have been struggling with PFAS contaminated water for decades.
“These new regulations would be a major public health victory toward reducing exposure to these toxic and persistent chemicals. There is still a lot of work to be done, though. With thousands of different PFAS chemicals on the market, we’ll continue to need innovative new strategies to regulate how these chemicals are used in our products to protect the health of people and the environment.”
Aleksandra Szczuka is an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. Her research focuses on providing safe and sustainable water, and determining best practices for treating impaired water sources.
“The upcoming per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance regulations point to the importance of these chemicals,” she said. “As U-M researchers and engineers, our goal is to understand the occurrence of these contaminants in our water, and apply and develop technologies that can remove these contaminants to mitigate the impacts on public health.”
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John Foster is a professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, as well as a professor of aerospace engineering. His research focuses on the use of cold plasma as a means of destroying PFAS chemicals in drinking water.
“This is certainly great news but the regulation will need to come with funding to give it true teeth,” he said. “It is expensive to remove PFAS conventionally and also very expensive to measure down to the concentrations needed to determine compliance. So municipalities, small and large, will need access to technology to meet the new regulations if actually enacted.
“One thing for sure, this regulation would spur more investment in advanced treatment methods and methods of detection that have the possibility of reducing both cost and overall implementation complexity.”
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Jennifer Read, director of the U-M Water Center, was lead author of a 2021 Michigan statewide water affordability assessment and directed a major public outreach project on Michigan’s revised Lead and Copper Rule.
“While we recognize the danger of PFAS contaminants and applaud the EPA’s efforts to reduce the risk associated with them, our ongoing research on water affordability in Michigan shows that many water utilities are already hard-pressed to maintain functioning water systems, especially while providing affordable services for vulnerable households,” she said. “To make a real difference, new PFAS regulations must come with federal and state resources to support them.”
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Allen Burton is a professor of environment and sustainability and of earth and environmental sciences, and editor-in-chief of the journal Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry. While at U-M, Burton has served as director of the Institute for Global Change Biology, the Water Center and the Cooperative Institute of Limnology and Ecosystems Research.
“It is admirable that the U.S. EPA recommended drinking water criteria for a widespread toxicant that many Americans are exposed to, from many sources other than water. I recommend a tiered management approach that addresses source reduction of the worst contamination first—utilizing upstream monitoring to define the sources of PFAS contamination,” Burton said.
“The state of Michigan has successfully reduced PFAS hotspots in streams by identifying and stopping sources. For municipalities where PFAS cannot be reduced by source reduction, treatment and monitoring expenses should be largely supported by the U.S. EPA.”
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Jackie Goodrich is a research associate professor of environmental health sciences and a toxicologist who studies the impact of pervasive chemicals on human health. Her focus is evaluating health effects from PFAS in particularly vulnerable populations, including children, pregnant people and occupationally exposed firefighters.
“The EPA’s proposed national drinking water standard for six PFAS in drinking water is a huge step toward protecting public health,” she said. “The more we study PFAS, the more we learn about their health impacts across a variety of systems, in both children and adults, at lower and lower doses of exposure. A stringent national standard is necessary to prevent harmful effects.”