Dems criticize GOP ‘inaction’ on contamination

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday accused majority Republicans of “inaction” on the contamination of tap water with old industrial chemicals, demanding that hearings be held to strengthen Michigan’s standard and to study why an internal state report that warned of dangers was ignored.

The renewed calls came a day before the GOP-led Legislature was to return to session after a summer break during which residents in the city of Parchment and Cooper Township in Kalamazoo County were told not to drink their municipal water for a month due to high levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The industrial compounds — which were used in products like firefighting foam and carpets — also have been found in at least 34 other sites in 19 communities .

Rep. Winnie Brinks, a Grand Rapids Democrat, said at a Capitol news conference that the state does not have an enforceable PFAS limit established in law, and the combined standard of 70 parts per trillion — set by Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration in January and which mirrors a federal advisory level set in 2016 — should be 5 parts per trillion.

“This cap would be the lowest in the country and would ensure that the water coming out of Michiganders’ taps is worth of being called pure,” said Brinks, who introduced legislation in December to lower the PFAS standard. “Access to clean, safe drinking water is a fundamental right.”

A response team created by the Republican governor last year is reviewing the science and may make a recommendation on the PFAS standard.

Asked why no hearings have been held, spokesman for GOP House Speaker Tom Leonard said Republicans “are focused on getting the state’s emergency response up and running first.” Gideon D’Assandro said lawmakers have allocated more than $60 million for lab equipment, initial cleanup, health care and getting boots on the ground in affected communities.

“The state is still working on testing water systems statewide and finding affected communities, and the Legislature’s focus needs to remain on this emergency testing and response until experts can determine the extent of the problem,” D’Assandro said in a statement. “This simply has to be done first.”

Democrats said hearings should be held, however, especially after reported in July that a state regulator’s 2012 warning about PFAS was largely ignored by the former director of the Department of Environmental Quality.

“That report was buried for six years. Michiganders deserve to have some answers,” said Rep. Kevin Hertel of St. Clair Shores, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.

Snyder — who is pushing a fee increase to in part help clean up PFAS sites — said last week that the reason Michigan is finding the man-made chemicals is because it is proactively testing for them unlike in other states, after learning lessons from the Flint water crisis.

The governor said of the 2012 report: “You can do a lot of what-ifs, but we’re doing the right things today and we’re doing them pretty well. But we’ve got to keep it up and we can’t take anything for granted.”