PFAS found at Atlanta landfill

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Jewell’s Disposal employee Chris Prevost empties a dumpster from the Alpena Senior Citizens Center into a garbage truck today. After the truck is full, it is taken to the landfill near Atlanta, where per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, levels just above state standards were recently discovered in a well.

LOUD TOWNSHIP — Last year, the Montmorency-Oscoda-Alpena Solid Waste Authority volunteered to test its landfill near Atlanta for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS.

After its first round of testing, the landfill ended up on the state’s list of PFAS-contaminated sites under investigation for groundwater contamination. There is little risk to drinking water in the area, officials say.

Landfill Administrator Connie Gerrie said samples were taken from wells at the landfill last fall, but the results were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The results finally arrived earlier this month, and one of the wells showed PFAS levels at 8.5 parts per trillion, which is slightly higher than what the state says is an acceptable level.

While the landfill was waiting for the results, the state lowered the amount of PFAS it considers safe from 70 ppt, which is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standard, to 8 ppt, effective Aug. 3. Many Michigan representatives in the nation’s capital are calling for the federal standard to also be lowered.

PFAS are found in many household items tossed into the trash. Scientists now consider the chemicals a long-term health risk, hurting everything from women’s ability to get pregnant to infant development.

The Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes, and Environment recently added 38 new PFAS locations to the state’s watch list, nearly all of them landfills, recycling centers, or large manufacturing sites, EGLE Assistant District Supervisor John Ozoga said.

Ozoga said he believes the contamination happened years ago, when landfills weren’t required to install liners to prevent leachate — water that permeates through the trash — from filtering into the ground.

Ozoga said landfills are now mandated to have protective liners, which make it nearly impossible for the leachate to penetrate the ground.

The landfill in Montmorency County had the lowest amount of contamination detected among sites on the watch list, and Ozoga said the level over the limit detected in the landfill well is so small it is difficult for the human mind to comprehend.

“This amount pretty much pushes man’s ability, and technologies, to detect and comprehend,” he said. “This is a very, very low amount we are talking about, here.”

Ozoga said that, whatever the state decides is the proper remedy for the PFAS issue at the landfill, it will likely cost the MOA money. No local government pays for the landfill.

“There most certainly will be a cost for them,” Ozoga said. “They may need more wells and more testing, just to be sure this stuff isn’t getting off the site.”

Drinking water contamination near the landfill is not a large concern right now, Gerrie, the landfill administrator, said. She said nobody near the landfill is allowed to have a well for drinking water.

“The landfill has a restrictive covenant, which prohibits consumption of the perched groundwater in the affected areas,” Gerrie said. “Signage has been posted around the area prohibiting the use of drinking water wells. Looking at our area map, I would not expect private wells needing to be tested at this time. I believe the closest resident down-gradient from this well is around three miles away.”

Gerrie said the landfill board knew there would be some PFAS detected, but she admitted she was taken a bit by surprise at the level.

She wants residents to know that the presence of PFAS at the facility is not from negligence and insists the landfill will continue to follow state guidelines and protect the environment and public. Gerrie said there will be more tests done this quarter and she is eager to learn more about the issue.

“We knew there would be some, because it is in everything, and almost everything comes into the landfill,” Gerrie said. “It may, or may not cause us a bunch of headaches. I’m bummed, because it makes us look bad, and we didn’t do anything wrong.”

PFAS contamination also has been detected at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center and the former Alpena Hide and Leather Co. tanning facility on Johnson Street. Drinking water is not believed to be threatened at either site.


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