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Research finds more PFAS coming out of wastewater treatment plants than going in

DEQ (now EGLE)

New research from Western Michigan University indicates that wastewater treatment plants could have a negative effect on PFAS pollution.

PFAS (perfluorinated alkylated substances) are used by many industries. They've been linked to some cancers and developmental disorders. There are thousands of PFAS, most undetectable by current methods.

Matt Reeves is an Associate Professor of Hydrogeology at WMU. He and colleagues Ross Helmer and Daniel Cassidy recently detected more PFAS in the discharged water from wastewater treatment plants, than the water going into the plant.

He said that's likely because undetectable PFAS entering the plant are likely subjected to aeration and oxygenation inside the plant.

"They can cause some of these compounds that we can't detect in the influent water. It can transform and change the molecular structure into some of the compounds that we can see," he said.

Moreover, the PFAS in the water coming out of the plant are often forms which can persist for decades or longer in the environment without breaking down, he said.

Reeves said the phenomenon needs further study, and the health effects of different PFAS also need further study.

Michigan currently has some of the strictest drinking water and groundwater standards in the nation. The state's clean-up criteria are 8 parts per trillion for PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and 16 parts per trillion for PFOS (perflurooctane sulfonic acid).

The state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy has dozens of investigations into PFAS contamination across the state.

Copyright 2022 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.