ROBINSON TWP. — Parents of Robinson Elementary School students were notified Monday that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has detected levels of PFAS contaminants in the school’s drinking water above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limit.
The EPA’s lifetime health advisory level for two PFAS chemicals in drinking water, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), is a combined 70 parts per trillion (ppt). The combined level of the two chemicals detected at the school was 110 ppt, with a total PFAS level of 144 ppt, according to the Ottawa County Department of Public Health.
The health advisory limit considers PFOA and PFOS only, but PFAS includes a much larger group of synthetic compounds.
Robinson is the only school to date in statewide school testing that has had a combined PFOA and PFOS above 70 ppt, according to DEQ officials.
The school uses well water, but the supply has been shut off and bottled water is being distributed through the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office Emergency Management Division and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The school’s staff has been instructed not to ingest water, for drinking or cooking, from the school’s faucets. About 600 bottles of water arrived at the school Monday, and around 33,000 bottles are currently available to the school’s roughly 300 students and 25 staff members in the building.
“School is open, school is safe,” Grand Haven Area Public Schools Superintendent Andy Ingall said. “We’ll have ample water to ensure we’ve taken care of everything from food service to how we’re going to wash our vegetables.”
The school’s bathrooms will still be operational, he added, and hand washing is safe.
Results of the second test are expected Wednesday, after which residents and businesses in the area will be tested, according to public health officials.
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, and state Rep. Jim Lilly, R-Park Township, were present for a press conference at the school Monday afternoon.
Lilly said the recent state budget allocated more than $60 million toward PFAS response and is looking at upgrading state laboratory testing. He called the state’s actions thus far on PFAS “proactive.”
“It’s very unfortunate that we’ve found this, but it’s better that we found it now, not 10 years from now,” Lilly said.
Huizenga said he has encouraged the EPA to determine a new federal standard for PFAS levels, as the science remains incomplete on the health risks. While Michigan is dealing with PFAS at a statewide level, he said, the issue is not unique to the state.
“I’m afraid that we are a harbinger of things to come across the country,” the congressman said.
MDEQ is in the midst of a statewide study of PFAS — a group of chemical compounds linked in human studies to forms of cancer, thyroid disorders, elevated cholesterol and other diseases. Sites with high levels of PFAS have been discovered in communities across the state, and remediation and mitigation efforts are ongoing.
While the source of the contamination is unknown, MDEQ Grand Rapids District Supervisor Abigail Hendershott said residents could use faucet filters certified to filter PFAS. At the school level, a building-wide filter could be implemented, which would use carbon to remove the PFAS chemicals.
PFAS chemicals are water and lipid resistant, found throughout the environment and used in common items such as firefighting foam, water-repellent materials, fast-food wrappers and non-stick cookware.
The remainder of Grand Haven Area Public Schools buildings are connected to the Northwest Ottawa Water System. MDEQ did not detect PFAS at the NOWS plant in Grand Haven in sampling earlier this month, after independent sampling in August found 8 combined ppt of PFOA and PFOS.
If you are concerned about exposure, contact the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ toxicology hotline at 800-648-6942.