New Report Shows How States, Feds Can Confront PFAS Crisis

Clean water protections, water infrastructure investment, and new research needed to protect health of people, wildlife from toxic PFAS contamination

Ann Arbor, MI – As communities across the Great Lakes region grapple with contaminated drinking water due to toxic PFAS chemicals, a new National Wildlife Federation report outlines how state and federal officials can and should set clean water protections, support water infrastructure investment, and back cutting-edge research to prevent and remediate insidious PFAS pollution.

Read the report, as well as an infographic on how PFAS spreads.

“We’re playing catch-up to a crisis that has been unfolding for decades, and state and federal lawmakers need to act with urgency,” said Oday Salim, staff attorney at the National Wildlife Federation and co-author of the report. “The good news is that public officials have tools at their disposal to confront the PFAS crisis and to protect the health of people and wildlife. We urge elected officials to act now, before the problem gets worse and more costly to solve. We look forward to working with elected officials to advance manageable solutions.”

The new report, “The Science and Policy of PFASs in the Great Lakes Region: A Roadmap for Local, State and Federal Action,” details the science around a family of toxic chemicals known as PFAS—focusing on impacts in the Great Lakes region—as well as policy and legal solutions to tackle the problem. The report also examines efforts to address PFAS in the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Due to the uncertainties around whether a divided Congress and ambivalent White House will move quickly or aggressively enough to confront the scope of the PFAS crisis, the report emphasizes state-level action to put in place clean water protections, as well as the need for federal investment to ensure local communities are not left footing the bill for a problem they did not cause. The report calls on lawmakers to: 

  • Set and enforce clean water protections based on laws such as the Clean Water Act;
  • Invest in the modernization of wastewater and drinking water infrastructure to prevent PFAS contamination and in the clean-up of polluted sites through programs like Superfund; and, 
  • Support a research strategy to provide data to shape strong policy decisions.

“What we know about PFAS is concerning, and we need solutions to be commensurate to the problem at hand,” said Michael Murray, Ph.D., staff scientist at the National Wildlife Federation and co-author of the report. “To address the scope of the problem, we need to be smart, focused, and coordinated on the local, state, federal, and international level. Ongoing investments in research and monitoring will be essential to inform effective policy decisions that protect the environment and the health of people, fish, and wildlife.”

PFASs pose a serious risk to human health. Studies have documented multiple effects, including cancers in highly exposed groups (testicular and kidney), impacts to the immune system, and to metabolism (for example, increasing total cholesterol). Troublingly, PFASs are being found in both public and private drinking water supplies across the Great Lakes region and nation.

Sandy Wynn-Stelt, a resident of Belmont, Mich., whose PFAS levels in her blood far exceed average limits, lives on property with PFAS-contaminated groundwater. She said: “You cannot imagine how PFAS contamination changes your community. It is important for all of us that we find ways to identify contamination. We also need to provide communities with safe drinking water, have available biomonitoring for all affected residents, and have legislation that makes this class of chemicals a hazardous substance so that clean-up and remediation can take place.”

“PFAS contamination is a serious threat to communities across Michigan and our nation that can have devastating health impacts for people who are exposed to these harmful chemicals. That’s why we must take swift action to confront the PFAS crisis,” said U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.). “In the Senate, I am continuing to work on advancing efforts prevent exposure to hazardous PFAS chemicals and expedite clean-up and assistance for affected communities. I applaud the National Wildlife Federation for examining how PFAS affects the Great Lakes Region and identifying ways to address this contamination.”

The impacts of PFAS contamination can be found around the region.

“PFAS contamination is an open wound in Wisconsin that continues to harm the environment and economy,” said Thomas Johnston, chair of the environmental committee for the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “After years of inaction, our hope is that state leaders will take the bull by the horn to confront this threat. We’re heartened that the new governor is starting to take action to address dangerous PFAS. We look forward to working with him and other elected officials to advance solutions for people and wildlife alike.”

“In Northeast Wisconsin, we’ve experienced firsthand how PFAS contamination not only threatens our waters, but also the health of our citizens.” said U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.). “It is critical for Congress to take steps to address sites impacted by PFAS, and I’m proud to support multiple pieces of legislation that do just that. I look forward to continue working with my colleagues to ensure we preserve our waters for future generations, and thank the National Wildlife Federation for their efforts to confront PFAS contamination.”

Cathy Wusterbarth, a resident of Oscoda, Mich., and co-leader of Need Our Water, has been working to draw attention to PFAS contamination from a former Air Force base near her town. She said: “We have been living with toxic PFAS contamination for years. Over nine years have passed since the discovery of these toxic chemicals in our water, yet the federal government has failed to put any real plan in place to clean up the contamination and protect our water. We are demanding action. Our government must immediately clean up the plumes impacting our public beach, state campground, youth camp, and groundwater. We have suffered with this contamination for too long.”

“Hunting and fishing are essential to our way of life in Michigan,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.). Finding potentially unsafe levels of dangerous chemicals in wildlife shows that PFAS exposure is not limited to just water. I will continue to push the military and private industry to clean up their pollution and protect our way of life in Michigan.”

The report also chronicles how elevated PFASs in wildlife can lead to developmental and reproductive problems. In the Great Lakes region, elevated levels of PFASs have been found in insect-eating birds such as tree swallows and fish-eating birds such as great blue herons, as well as bald eagles, fish, and deer—leading to fish consumption advisories and, in Michigan, a Do Not Eat advisory for deer in at least one county.

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