Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller speaks during a press conference about the high levels of Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS, found in the drinking water of Parchment and Cooper Township at the Emergency Management Office inside the Kalamazoo County Sheriff Department in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Thursday, July 26, 2018. (Daniel Vasta /Kalamazoo Gazette via AP)

2 Michigan communities told to stop using contaminated water

July 27, 2018 - 9:07 am

PARCHMENT, Mich. (AP) — Authorities handed out free bottled water Friday for two southwestern Michigan communities where the discovery of contamination from toxic industrial chemicals prompted a warning against using the public water system for drinking or cooking.

Michigan and Kalamazoo County health officials announced Thursday that tests found perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, in the water supplied to the city of Parchment and neighboring Cooper Township, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of Detroit. About 3,000 people are on the affected water system.

"As soon as the tests results were reported, the state and local agencies tasked with protecting public health and our environment began coordinating a response," Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement.

PFAS have been detected in water systems in some 30 states. They are used in manufacturing, firefighting and thousands of household and consumer products. Many communities have reported high levels of the chemicals in water systems near military bases and factories that worked with the compounds. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is hosting public meetings in communities where the chemicals have contaminated water systems.

The source of the Michigan contamination is under investigation. The Parchment area has a history of paper manufacturing.

Some studies suggest PFAS might affect fetal development, disrupt hormonal functions, damage fertility and immune systems, and boost the risk of cancer.

A June report by the Department of Health and Human Services' toxicology office said the PFAS family of chemicals is more toxic than previously believed, threatening human health at concentrations seven to 10 times lower than once realized. As a draft of the report circulated among Trump administration officials earlier this year, a White House email released under a public records request described the findings as a "potential public relations nightmare."

In Michigan, the Legislature enacted $23 million in emergency spending to address PFAS contamination as efforts continued to help the city of Flint recover from its crisis with lead-tainted water.

The tests for PFAS were part of an effort announced in May to check for contamination in Michigan's 1,380 public water systems.

In Parchment, officials set up a free bottled-water distribution site at a high school and were draining the city's water system. It will be connected to the water supply in nearby Kalamazoo, which will flush Parchment's water system until tests show the PFAS at acceptable levels. After that, officials will determine when affected residents can use the main water supply again.

Officials also are advising people not to use water for making baby formula or rinsing fruits and vegetables. Boiling water or using common residential filters won't remove PFAS, authorities said. People can bathe and wash clothes, however.

Snyder late Thursday directed the state departments of Environmental Quality, Health and Human Services, and the State Police to assist residents of Parchment and Cooper Township.

"Our first priority is the health of residents in the Parchment and Cooper Township area and to ensure they have access to safe drinking water," Snyder said.