Michigan Water Issues

Persona/POV

  1. Persona

    1. Persona name: Aniyah Walker

    2. Age: 36

    3. School/occupation: Washtenaw County high school teacher

    4. Location: Ypsilanti, MI

    5. Quote: “I have enough on my plate as it is with two kids, bills to pay, and about a hundred kids to teach every day, I shouldn’t have to worry about the water I drink.”

    6. About:

      1. Has two kids in local grade schools who are actively involved in sports

      2. Works hard to keep her family healthy and productive as a single mother

      3. Has to take care of her mother who recently moved in with them because of financial instability

    7. Goals:

      1. Create and promote a healthy environment for her family to live in

      2. Work hard to provide her kids and students the best education possible

      3. Save enough money to send her kids to college and retire with enough money to live on her own in old age unlike her mother

  2. POV Statement

    1. User: Aniyah, a busy and loving mother of two in Ypsilanti…

    2. Need: …shouldn't have added burden of having to worry about PFAS toxicity levels in local water sources…

    3. Insight: …because she wants to make sure her family and students are drinking safe water and won’t be affected by direct exposure to PFAS.

Potential Solutions

  1. Inform public of severity, information, prevalence and effects of PFAS in their local water and consumer goods. This would done with local environmental safety groups spreading word through town halls, flyers, and other forms of activist communication throughout their communities.

  2. Regulate toxicity levels of PFAS in the manufacturing of consumer goods down to a non-hazardous level in all materials. This would have to be done through state law that would prohibit PFAS levels past a specific threshold.

  3. Detoxify local streams, rivers, and watersheds by specifically targeting PFAS sources located upstream of standing bodies of water to prevent further contamination downstream. Could be implemented through local or state wildlife and reserve groups/committees using volunteers. Can also attempt to get state funding for materials and tools needed to detoxify the water and use individuals required to complete community service to have the manpower to complete the detoxification, as it is not an activity that requires much skill.

 

BACKGROUND AND RESEARCH PROCESS Context

Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

Senate Bill 1244 was signed into law during the last days of former governor Rick Snyder’s (R) time in office. The bill decreases discretion by state officials’ ability to interpret regulations regarding hazardous substance cleanups, spolls, standards, and toxicity values. The bill makes Michigan’s toxicity standards align with federal guidelines which are non-specific and slow to change with new information. Senate Bill 1244 forces state officials to neglect new water toxicity studies and enforce previous, outdated standards for toxicity which do contain sufficient, growing information regarding proper safety measures with PFAS and other related chemicals.

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

This proposal will make a difference in the lives of all students across Michigan because it will ensure healthy drinking water for them as they grow up in their homes, schools and other public recreation centers. On top of that, this proposal will ensure healthy local bodies of water for outdoor activities like daycamps, athletic competitions or general recreation. There is likely a significant impact on individuals by region, as people located near bodies of water contaminated by PFAS are more likely to be impacted than those not directly using contaminated water.

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

After meeting with our main consultant, Jason Frenzel, we became aware of the looming, severe problem of PFAS and other water-resistant chemicals that are incorporated into many parts of our lives. When one water-resistant chemical is prohibited, another one replaces it. The utility of water-resistant chemicals is obvious in cookware, raingear, and any flame, water-retardant material one can imagine. However, with known connection to cancers, autoimmune disorders, etc, PFAS has deadly, intense effects on the micro-level. Upon learning its prominence not only in consumer goods but our local rivers and lakes, we knew PFAS was the most important water issue for Michigan.

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

We have begun our service activity at Habitat for Humanity ReStore which is an organization that takes in old, worn, donated furniture to repair and “restore” back to an acceptable condition for low-income families to purchase at very reasonable prices. While much of the volunteering was manual labor and moving, assembling furniture, we were also able to engage with many of the families interested in purchasing the affordable furniture. While not directly related to Michigan water issues, specifically PFAS toxicity, Habitat for Humanity was able to give us more insight as to who is really affected by issues like PFAS.

Billy also committed hours to Clean Water Action environmental advocacy group non-profit in Ann Arbor. The activity called for speaking with community members directly about water issues including PFAS. It was really eye-opening to see the mixed reactions of people when informed of the questionable safety of their drinking water.

Another service activity we participated in was Ronald McDonald house. The foundation has been helping millions of families with sick children find comfort and support when they need it most. Their programs are tailored to meet the urgent needs of each community and can now be found in more than 64 countries and regions across the globe. During our activity, we made tacos and brownies for dinner and dessert at the local Ronald McDonald house by the University hospital. Although it isn’t directly related to our proposal, it got us thinking about the effects of having a child in the hospital for an extended period of time.

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

Consultations

Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1: Jason Frenzel, Huron River Watershed Council Stewardship Coordinator - as our main consultant, had lots of information regarding multiple water issues affecting students within the state of Michigan and helped us narrow down which topic to do our proposal on. Gave us informative background context on the issue and suggested steps that could improve its current state. Is featured on the media artifact (podcast). Upon a follow up consultation, Jason directed us towards main opponents of PFAS (chemical companies, department of defense, and congressmen who are anti-government regulation in the environment). Jason also informed us of newest development of PFAS in political sphere with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to form a committee to create a PFAS limit in drinking water in parts per trillion.

CONSULTATION 2: Daniel Brown, Huron River Watershed Council Watershed Planner - very knowledgeable about the Michigan water issues, specifically PFAS contamination. In particular he informed us of the process of detoxifying PFAS contaminated water and the skills and costs associated with that process.

CONSULTATION 3: John Benedict, ENVIRON 201: Ecological Issues Professor - gathered general information about PFAS and went in depth about understand the specific environmental ramifications they cause for humans as well as wildlife species. Specifically, fish in PFAS contaminated waters are not safe to be consumed by humans and PFAS can lead to reproductive, developmental and immunological defects in wildlife species and humans as well. 

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

Our TC, Stefan, has informed us that our proposal uses non-objective wording that may be unpersuasive to our audience of congressmen and policy advocates in Lansing. Stefan also mentioned we should speak roughly about where the funding for our proposal should come from in the government budget.

You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.

In response, we made changes to our final proposal and are making the language much more objective so our audience is not put on the hot seat but merely addressed to the issue and provided means of solving the problem. As far as where we get this money, in 2018 the Michigan state government spent 0.0 billion dollars on pollution abatement, protection of biodiversity and landscape, R and D environmental protection, environmental protection. In 2019, the budget remained the exact same in this area. This is unacceptable. The state needs to provide funding in these areas and the problem of PFAS must be dealt with the state because there would only be further disparity in water quality between communities if it was handled on the local level. The discussion of pulling from other funding should only come up after funding has been established.

When meeting for our proposal check-in with Prof Kupperman, he suggested that we consider making the Persona/POV section more about someone who is more at risk and less able to combat the issue of PFAS contamination. Despite the fact that Jennifer Moore was a great example of someone who is directly affected by the issue, she is also privileged and wealthy enough to invest in her own personal water filters or take action and start a movement that may not represent the majority of individuals affected by the issue. Instead, we started to consider someone who is more socioeconomically challenged and affected just as much by the issue, but doesn’t have the time, money or knowledge to make a change. As a result, we changed our Persona/POV to the Prof Kupperman’s suggestion and believe it is a more comprehensive representation of the topic’s victims.

Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

While we knew we wanted to pursue water issues in Michigan, we did not know which issue we wanted to pursue for our proposal. When we first met with our main consultant, Jason Frenzel, we asked questions regarding Nestle aquifer pumping and water export rights as well as policies and plans of action to mitigate aquatic invasive species from taking over the Great Lakes ecosystem. Our research, as seen in environmental issue provocations and other posts, were related to these areas and we had every intent on pursuing one of these topics. However, Jason, well aware of water issues in Michigan, turned us to PFAS and water toxicity. What really made me want to pursue this topic was the lack of public knowledge on the issue and the scale of the issue. As an Ann Arbor resident, Billy had been swimming in bodies of water with significant levels of PFAS and neither family, friends, or anyone he knew had any knowledge of its negative associations like cancer. This brought us to a difficult position because it seemed like there was nowhere to go with this proposal but to inform the public. Having talked with Jason further, he shed light on possible, tangible, yet significant ways this problem can be lessened and solved past simple awareness as well as the influence of chemical companies and manufacturers in Michigan.

After our initial draft and meeting with our TC, professor Kupperman, we assessed further solutions to problem of PFAS. With more meetings with proposal consultants, our solutions were guided to be more narrowed and refined. Specifically after our meeting with Jason, we realized our solutions had to begin with creating a metric to evaluate the safe level of PFAS in our drinking water before moving onto removing PFAS from our water.

Author contributions:

Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?

The original idea to focus on Michigan water issues was presented by Billy, as he had knowledge of the topic beforehand and is a resident of Michigan. After meeting with our first consultant and establishing a relatively equal understanding of the issue and its effects, Billy and Logan worked collaboratively and equally on contributing to the Media Artifact, Persona/POV, Potential Solutions and Final Proposal. Logan did editing for the Media Artifact, as it was a podcast, and Billy refined the wording of the 3 Potential Solutions seen above. Logan met with John Benedict. Billy met with Jason for a follow-up consultation. We both met with Daniel to gain a better grasp of the process of detoxifying PFAS. Having committed service activity with Clean Water Action, Billy provided activist insight on the PFAS problem as well as other water issues in Michigan. Logan was responsible for coordination and creating deadlines outside of guidelines in the syllabus to stay on top of our proposal.

FORMAL PROPOSAL

The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS.... PFAS are incredibly toxic, synthetic chemicals used to manufacture many water-resistant, flame-retardant products like rain-gear and firefighting foam. PFAS can currently be found throughout multiple bodies of water within Michigan (reference the map below to see locations of PFAS sites) and the nation.

WHEREAS.... PFAS is an underresearched issue making citizens and government officials relatively uninformed about the issue and effects of PFAS, therefore not generating the attention needed to make a policy change.

WHEREAS.... There is no required testing or cleanups for PFAS contamination in national drinking water. Companies are only unable to manufacture PFAS themselves, but are allowed to create products which contain PFAS. This allows companies to emit the chemicals into the environment without being held legally responsible for their pollution by the government.

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED....

1. Follow Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s request to establish an enforceable contaminant level or standard for PFAS at the state level in parts per trillion. The process will be carried out by a committee of experts and scientists who have suitable knowledge on the issue of PFAS in our environment.

2. Mandate that all bodies of drinking water be tested for PFAS levels to gather necessary data to assess whether they have levels higher than the limit decided by the committee in step 1. The committee will designate qualified PFAS testers for these bodies of drinking water. Testing kit varies based on type of waterway and treatments currently involved with the body of water; however, testing will be funded by the state to ensure PFAS testing equality among all Michigan communities.

3. Require entities contributing to the issue of PFAS toxicity in local bodies of water with PFAS levels surpassing the limit decided upon by the committee in step 1 to implement alternative strategies of disposing the chemicals. This way there will be no further contamination in local bodies of water with significant levels of PFAS. If these described entities do not stop their actions, the committee in step 1 will decide adequate penalization to be placed upon them. Additionally, these entities will have to implement and maintain proper filtration systems called Granular Activated Carbon-filters (GACs) so the state can regulate and restrict high levels of PFAS contamination. Given that GACs can be incredibly expensive, the environmental committee that determines the correct parts per trillion concentration of PFAS will also give companies a reasonable timeline to implement GACs into their system and operations.

4. Mandate that PFAS toxicity levels found in drinking water beyond a specified threshold decided by the committee organized in step 1 follow through with a PFAS contamination clean up. The clean up processes will be administered by the committee and funded by the state to ensure water equality among Michigan communities. Since PFAS regulations are in early development, little information is available regarding what a clean up would entail. However, it is known that PFAS clean ups would be a lengthy and costly endeavor so a reasonable timeline for its removal will be decided upon by the organized committee in step 1.

Counter-arguments:

What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. The Midland Dow community within Michigan relies heavily on employment by Dow Chemical, a potential leading force contaminating water with PFAS chemicals. By requiring Dow Chemical to consider alternative ways to discard of PFAS, the corporation’s costs will likely rise and the company may need to find ways to trim unnecessary operations, potentially labor/employees.

2. There are no current data points and not enough specific information on PFAS toxicity that the state and nation use for reference and therefore the ramifications of PFAS are unknown to the government.

3. There is not enough state funding to contribute the necessary resources and equipment to diminish the effects of PFAS in drinking water and funding used on PFAS research and regulation can be more efficiently allocated to problems the state has hard evidence on.

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?

Testing for PFAS is expensive because PFAS is toxic in levels far lower than most contaminants. That means tests are sensitive and easy to contaminate. Installing the appropriate filtration systems (GACs) can be enormously expensive, especially for smaller communities. Once the filters are installed, they have to be maintained and disposed of as they filter out PFAS and “fill up.” Disposing of the spent filter material and replacing it is a significant ongoing cost. Each filter has to be incinerated in special incinerators to avoid air pollution. For communities that have PFAS contamination in many local or private wells, the only solution found so far is to connect each well to an uncontaminated municipal water source that doesn’t contain PFAS. That cost can range well into the millions of dollars. Thankfully, such groundwater contamination hasn’t yet been found in the Huron River watershed. For reference, Ann Arbor received $850,000 to address PFAS, and they are a community with already significant infrastructure available to tackle such an issue. Researchers are actively and furiously studying the effects of PFAS on humans and its behavior in the environment. That cost is enormous but is distributed to many researchers around the globe. Whether state regulated or through approved volunteer, environmental protection groups, these kits can be distributed for their members to do the physical testing. The main stakeholder against PFAS reduction are chemical companies that produce PFAS and similar chemicals for manufacturers of water-resistant materials and clothing. Lost revenue would be seen as these companies take steps toward preventing contamination and shift away from producing these chemicals which may potentially result in higher unemployment and decreased corporate profits. Funding for these regulations should come from the state, specifically department of environmental quality, since this is an issue that should be at the forefront of this department’s concern. In order to fund this, the department’s budget may need to be increased if funds cannot be allocated properly. The testing cost can be marginally decreased with economies of scale on a statewide level. The bulk of the cost, aside from research grants to evaluate the significance of PFAS levels in our water, would come from contamination cleanups using filtration systems costing upwards of $5,000 per unit. Depending on the size of the body of water, many units may be required taking up the bulk of the cost in this proposal.

 

References:

https://www.environmentalcouncil.org/pfas_in_michigan

https://toxicsaction.org/issues/pfas-water-contamination/

https://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/2017/10/how_to_test_water_for_pfas.html

https://mdeq.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=36c48f4a7d144c21a79291ba280cf50b

https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/year_spending_2018MIbs_20bs2n#usgs302

 

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Total votes: 25