Toxic Chemicals Enter Wastewater Systems in Michigan

Dec. 5, 2018

An investigation has learned dozens of manufacturers are releasing industrial chemicals into Michigan wastewater systems

In Michigan, a toxic chemical is entering local wastewater systems as much as 20,000 times the legal limit. According to MLive, manufacturing businesses are sending high levels of industrial chemicals in the into waterways every day.

According to Environmental Leader, the investigation involved studying documents obtained using the Freedom of Information Act. Through this they learned dozens of manufacturers in Michigan are releasing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in such high concentrations that the municipal wastewater treatment plant cannot filter them out.

The documents showed that the state officials discovered 18 wastewater treatment plants discharging excessive perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). According to the Environmental Leaders, MLive journalists Paula Gardner and Garret Ellison describe this as a type of PFAS that is prevalent in the industry and has the most rigorous cleanup standard.

“The source of most of the PFOS in the documents examined by MLive is the surface finishing industry,” Gardner and Ellison said in the investigation. “The manufacturers perform electroplating, with the ‘platers’ coating office furniture, medical devices, and metal pieces like gear and machine parts. Many apply the chrome-like trim to plastic components used by the auto industry.”

According to the MLive article, PFOS entered operations when platers in the state were advised to add a surfactant to form a vapor barrier that prevented employees from breathing in the cancer-causing hexavalent chromium. Companies in the U.S. were supposed to have stopped using chemicals with PFOS by 2015 under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules, according to Environmental Leader.

Unfortunately, even after the chemicals use it tends to linger long after the usage stops. Nick Hrynyk, Lacks Enterprise CEO, told MLive his company had not used PFOS in nearly six years yet it still clings. Tests at the Lack Enterprise facilities in Grand Rapids show a combined 18,811 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFOS to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. This plant sends its outflow to the Grand River and Lake Michigan.

In another example, DCI Aerotech Inc. in Detroit sent 9,750-ppt to the Great Lakes Water Authority. This water discharges to the Detroit River before it flows into Lake Erie. According to MLive, 54 companies have not responded to the Great Lakes Water Authority with details on PFAS chemical use in their facilities.

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Image courtesy Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ).