No PFAS resolution yet from health board

ALPENA — Four months after first discussing it, the District Health Department No. 4 board has yet to pass a resolution detailing regional contamination of per- and polyfluoroakyl substances — more commonly known as PFAS — but continues to learn about and discuss the contaminants during monthly meetings.

The proposal of a PFAS resolution was introduced to the board in March. That was the same month the District Health Department No. 2 board passed its own PFAS resolution detailing contamination at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base and associated health advisories.

It was also during the No. 4 board’s March meeting that Alpena County Commissioner Brenda Fournier, one of the commissioners appointed to serve on the health board, expressed concerns that passing such a resolution could ruin Alpena’s chances of growing and could discourage people from moving here.

While Fournier stands by her previous statement, she said this week she “probably would” support the resolution if asked to vote on it, because she is concerned about PFAS.

“It’s not just in the water, and I don’t think people realize that,” she said. “It’s in clothing, it’s in shoes you wear, it’s everywhere, not just water. So, yeah, it is a concern, definitely. But what I would like to know is, how are they going to correct it? What are they going to do to totally get rid of PFAS? So far, I have not gotten an answer.”

The health boards’ resolutions would be non-binding and advisory in nature.

Denise Bryan, administrative health officer for both District Health Departments No. 2 and No. 4, said the concerns of commissioners often mimic the concerns of their constituents in the community.

“For me, a light bulb did go on, that one of the things I pride myself in is education of the community, and I felt like I should do a better job at getting the factual information both on our website to the community and to the board,” she said.

PFAS was first discovered at Wurtsmith in 2010, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. The contaminants were found at both the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center and the former Alpena Hide and Leather in 2017. The contaminants have been widely covered in the media, especially in Michigan, for at least several months.

Since the resolution was introduced to the health board four months ago, the board has continued to learn about and discuss PFAS during its meetings. The board heard from Sesha Kallakuri, a toxicologist with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in June.

Environmental Health Director Scott Smith on Tuesday updated the board that the state is making progress toward establishing a maximum contamination levels for seven different PFAS compounds. He said those maximum contamination levels will hopefully be released by the state by April 2020.

Bryan said she would like to see the board adopt the resolution by September. Bryan said she will bring a draft of the resolution to the board next month when it meets in Cheboygan, where it could be passed. However, if there are any edits or rewrites needed, it would come back to the board in September, when it meets in Hillman.

No. 4 board Chairman Bert LaFleche said Wednesday his board was waiting for the state to make new recommendations on PFAS levels, as is expected next year, before passing the resolution.

On Thursday, LaFleche said that goal was something he was thinking, but that it hadn’t been discussed at board meetings.

Lee Gapczynski, who represents Presque Isle County on the No. 4 board, could not be reached for comment.

LaFleche is a commissioner serving Montmorency County, which has one site the state is monitoring for PFAS contamination.

Water from a drinking well at Oak Leaf Manor in Lewiston tested at 18 parts per trillion earlier this year. That level falls below the federal standard of 70 parts per trillion, but is higher than the 10 ppt that triggers additional testing by state health officials.

LaFleche said PFAS is something he’s concerned about because it’s something that is going to end up costing money to mitigate.

“I don’t know how they’re going to figure it all out, but you know darn well the taxpayers are going to end up paying for most of it,” he said. “We always do.”

No. 4 covers Alpena, Montmorency, Presque Isle and Cheboygan counties. No. 2 covers Alcona, Iosco, Ogemaw and Oscoda counties.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.