Michigan House PFAS measure shows ‘troubling mindset,’ say critics

Advocates for stricter limits on unregulated drinking water contaminants called PFAS are concerned that formal legislative input aims to predispose a new safety threshold by limiting public input and the data a science panel would consider. Language to encourage a review of human studies in addition to those performed on lab animals by the state’s PFAS Scientific Advisory Committee is not included in a concurrent resolution pending in the state Senate appropriations committee. Amendments to support public interest group expert representation on the panel and input from people and businesses impacted by PFAS contamination were also not adopted when the state House passed its resolution by voice vote in early February. Although resolutions do not carry the force of law, once passed they are considered the legislature’s formal statement of opinion on policy. Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, proposed the amendments. Brinks, who sponsored a bill to give Michigan the nation’s toughest PFAS drinking water standard, said she’s concerned that leaving the public’s voice off the science panel removes a counterweight to industry experts participating in the review. Although creation of the science committee was announced in January, no members beyond chair David Savitz, a Brown University epidemiologist, have been announced. The committee will advise Gov. Rick Snyder’s PFAS response team (MPART). “It seems, anecdotally, that there are some people who think if they keep saying ‘science’ enough, it all sounds like were doing this objectively and scientifically,” she said. “If you establish a scientific panel with equal representation for industry and no representation for impacted people or business, they could still end up with a very subjective thing.” Snyder’s office said panel members will be announced this week. “We are working on finding some of the top people nationally and determining if they are willing and available to join the team,” said Snyder spokesman Ari Adler. “That is taking longer than we initially anticipated but we are making progress.” Fifteen communities in Michigan are currently dealing with known PFAS contamination sites, according to the state. Those sites include military bases and Wolverine World Wide tannery waste dumps near Grand Rapids. Ingestion of PFAS has been linked in human studies to some cancers, thyroid disorders, elevated cholesterol and other diseases. Anthony Spaniola, a Troy attorney who owns a cottage on Van Etten Lake, which is polluted with PFAS from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, said the reticence of legislators to consider Brinks’ amendments reveals a “troubling mindset” in which people impacted and exposed to pollution are cut from decision making. Spaniola sees a process controlled by “a group of bureaucrats and apparently some powerful industry types who seem to be lurking in the background but aren’t totally identified — the ‘stakeholders,'” he said. “It appears like a continuation of what’s been going on, which, in Oscoda, has left us with a situation where contamination is bleeding from all directions on the Air Force base and there’s no action plan.” Spaniola criticised state officials for their reluctance to consider a PFAS drinking water standard lower than the Environmental Protection Agency health advisory level of 70-parts-per-trillion (ppt) for PFOS and PFOA — a benchmark which some academic researchers who have studied humans exposed to the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances called PFAS or PFCs consider inadequate. Also included in Brinks’ resolution amendments was language to use “a much more precautionary drinking water limit for PFOS and PFOA than 70-ppt,” like those in Vermont, Minnesota and New Jersey” for interim clean-up or response actions. States like New Jersey which have considered human studies as part of their development of PFAS drinking water standards have adopted stricter limits, Spaniola said. New Jersey’s limit on PFOA in drinking water is 14-ppt. Richard Clapp at University of Massachusetts Lowell and Philippe Grandjean at Harvard estimated 1 ppt as the safe PFAS level in drinking water based on research in the Faroe Islands, where exposure through whale meat consumption by indigenous mothers was linked to a 50 percent decline in the effectiveness of vaccinations among breastfed 1-year-olds. Grandjean was tapped as an expert by the Minnesota attorney general’s office for a lawsuit brought against 3M alleging Scotchgard waste disposal was harmful to human health and the environment. The case was settled in February for $850 million. “The lab animal studies have been called into question,” Spaniola said. “Animals get rid of PFAS much faster than humans do. The human studies all point to lower limits.” “New Jersey has been studying this for years and we’re just ignoring all that,” he said. “Grandjean has been studying this for years and we’re just ignoring all that.” Savitz, who will lead the PFAS Scientific Advisory Committee, said that human data will be part of the panel’s review, which aims to “distil” dozens of studies and examine the medical and environmental health literature before making recommendations on what types of standards, if any, the state should set for PFAS contamination. “We’re not going to pick out individual studies,” he said. “Each of these lines of evidence has distinctive strengths and limitations,” he said. “In lab studies, you can have very tight control. Exposure is known and measured precisely. Epidemiological studies are forced to rely on what we can observe in the real world.” “A comprehensive assessment needs to take into account all of these threads,” Savitz said. Savitz said the EPA advisory level, which public health watchdog organisations like the Environmental Working Group call inadequate, is “intended to be conservative.” “Our group will look at the evidence and see if (EPA) erred on side of caution or of they haven’t been cautious enough,” he said. “Maybe they’re right. Maybe they are wrong. We will do the best we can with the information that’s available right now.” It’s unclear when or if the Senate appropriations committee may consider the House PFAS resolution after it returns from recess. Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, who chairs the committee, did not respond to calls for comment. Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Allegan, said she didn’t include Brinks amendments because she didn’t receive them with enough time before a vote. She declined to comment on whether she supports the amendments now that’s had more time to read them or whether she might have included the language had she gotten it earlier. “I felt like my resolution covered the intent of what we wanted,” Whiteford said. Although initially sceptical, Sen. Peter MacGregor, R-Rockford, said “I don’t see anything in here that’s a problem” after being shown a copy of the resolution by MLive. MacGregor is vice chair of the appropriations committee and said he’d talk with Whiteford and Hildenbrand about reinserting Brinks’ amendments into the resolution. “Not being a scientist, I have to put my trust behind 70-ppt until a group of scientists say it’s not the right number,” MacGregor said. “But, it’s the number we’re using right now and I’ve got to go with what the science says.”

Mlive, 30 March 2018 ; http://www.mlive.com

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