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Michigan Regulatory Board Halts State’s Drinking Water Rules

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A Michigan regulatory oversight board staffed with business and industry representatives selected by former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has temporarily paused state drinking water standards that would limit allowable levels of certain toxic industrial chemicals.

The Environmental Rules Review Committee voted Thursday to wait two weeks before deciding on whether to delay or approve draft maximum contaminant levels for several compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, collectively called PFAS, MLive.com reported.

The substances, widely used in firefighting foam, nonstick cookware and other products, have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they persist so long in the environment. Studies have found potential links between high levels in the body of one form of the contaminants and a range of illnesses, including kidney cancer, increased cholesterol levels and problems in pregnancies.

The panel was one of two created last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature. It was the focus of an early showdown between Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and GOP lawmakers, who overrode her effort to eliminate the panels while restructuring the former Department of Environmental Quality in February.

Opponents have labeled the bodies “polluter panels” due to the industry’s representation within their ranks. One has oversight on all rulemaking for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, or EGLE; the other on authorizing decisions. The PFAS standards are the first significant regulations the 12-member rules committee, mainly comprised of multi-year Snyder appointees, has considered.

The panel’s PFAS discussions happened Thursday in Lansing, a month after EGLE’s internal PFAS advisory board advanced draft rules to Whitmer’s office. She approved the rules Oct. 11 after directing the development of PFAS standards earlier this year. The state wants the water standards in place by summer.

When the committee reconvenes Nov. 14, it could choose to intervene and further review the proposed standards or allow the process to proceed unhindered. Any dispute ultimately goes to the governor and the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rulemaking.

Whitmer’s office said they hope the committee will approve the draft rules at that meeting to avoid further delays.

The proposed Michigan drinking water rules come amid a budding awareness of and response to PFAS pollution nationwide. Multiple states, including New York , New Hampshire, Vermont and California are in the process of establishing similar state-level standards.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency typically develops the drinking water standards before the states adopt them, but the EPA isn’t moving quickly enough on deciding whether to regulate the chemicals to satisfy several states, including Michigan.

In 2018, Michigan tested about 1,380 public water systems and 460 schools, daycares and Head Start centers using well water. That testing found PFAS chemicals at some level in public drinking water serving nearly 1.5 million people around the state.

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