Grayling Grappling with PFAS, DEQ Strategizing Restoration

PFAS is a short name for a chemical that has a long, controversial rap sheet. It stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances that can be found in industry and products like sticky notes and firefighting foams.

The man-made chemical has been found at several sites in the state and scientists say it’s dangerous once it seeps into the drinking water.

The DEQ identified the Grayling Army Airfield as one area of PFAS contamination and has been testing neighbors. They sampled water from more than 600 nearby residences and the results have come in.

-445 homes had no detectable PFAS

-215 homes had PFAS within 70 parts-per-trillion, a limit deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency

-17 homes tested positive for dangerous levels of PFAS

They also tested more than 400 homes around the Lake Magerethe area. Just two homes had PFAS levels higher than the recommended 70 parts-per-trillion limit.

One of those homes belongs to Juanita Biliniski. She owns two properties along the shoreline. Her first showed no PFAS but her second home showed dangerous levels of the chemical in her drinking water.

“For the past five or six years, I’ve noticed this foam on the lake, and I’ve thought, ‘I don’t know what it is,’” said Biliniski. When she found out her water testing results, she was scared. “I thought, my goodness, I’m afraid to even have guests, to tell them don’t drink the water don’t get in the lake and so forth.”

On Tuesday, a bill passed in the Michigan House of Representatives floor that would double the amount of PFAS allowed in the drinking water supply. Proponents of the bill, that’s heading to the governor, say it’s necessary environmental regulation reform. The bill has the support of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and many business interests. Environmentalists believe the bill would open the door for further pollution and looser standards.

The DEQ’s lead geologist says that any new legislation should be based on scientific data.

“I would want to see any criteria be science-based,” said Lindsay. “Doubling the … acceptable level, I don’t know if that is a science-based number in that legislation. There’s a lot of debate, ongoing debate.”

Lindsay says scientists need to study the chemical further to understand its impact. Lindsay says he does know that once it gets into the ecology, it’s hard to get it out.

“So far, there’s limited methods in getting PFAS out of the environment,” said Lindsay. “It doesn’t tend to degrade.”

The DEQ will continue testing Grayling for the contaminant and will figure out a restoration strategy after that. They plan to host public forums along the way to update the public on their progress.