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Competency needed for PFAS

How do you spell inept?

Answer: DEQ and EGLE.

That’s DEQ, as in the state government Department of Environmental Quality, which was replaced by the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with EGLE, as in Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

By either moniker, the two departments are charged with protecting our precious environment from all sorts of villains, and one of the most recent to come on stage is per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS.

You may not know the name, but you certainly know the products that use that substance, such as Teflon on those pots and pans underneath your sink, or the Scotch guard on your favorite sofa, or, if you’re a firefighter in action, that effective foam they spray on fires is PFAS, too.

Only problem is, PFAS is mucho dangerous. It never goes away. It finds its way into the groundwater and, after you read this column, you will rejoice that you live far away from the urban areas, because recently PFAS has crept its way onto a popular roadway in Oakland County, namely I-696.

And that is where the term “inept” creeps its way into this story.

Since 1996, a rogue electroplating shop owner has operated one of the worst contaminated chemical cocktail operations in the state and the old DEQ knew about it. Gov. John Engler was running the show back then in 1996.

His DEQ did not ameliorate the problem.

But neither did the Jennifer Granholm DEQ.

Nor did the Rick Snyder team get it done.

And now it’s Whitmer’s turn in the contaminated barrel. Her EGLE director told a state House committee the other day, “I’m disappointed.”

Really?

“I’m disappointed this has gone on for decades.”

“I’m disappointed at (the) multiple stages in the process,” Director Liesl Clark told the media. “Multiple stages” that did not fix the mess, and it wasn’t until a whole host of chemicals showed up on the daily freeway commute that this thing reached critical mass.

To be fair, the state and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, after finally slapping a long-overdue cease-and-desist order on the owner, swung into action and shelled out $1.5 million to clean up the shop floor.

What they failed to discover is that underneath the shop floor was a cesspool of more dangerous chemicals, including PFAS, producing a witches’ brew that had enough nasty stuff in it to warrant a warning from officials: “Don’t go near it.”

Inept.

What they also failed to do, according to the city manager from Madison Heights, where the plant is located, is to continue to monitor the site for any other problems.

Mellisa Marsh reports, “We had an EPA report that they would monitor the site, and it didn’t happen.”

Inept.

Now, there are fears that this green ooze in the groundwater could quietly meander into Lake St. Clair and not-so-quietly explode into a full-fledged public health threat. Lake St. Clair is a source for municipal water supplies.

Ms. Clark is aware of the possibility and so is the Macomb County Drain Commissioner Candice Miller, who has been highly vocal and critical of EGLE’s performance. At one point, after some initial groundwater testing, the state tried to reassure everyone that, by the time it got to the lake, if it did, the amounts of dangerous chemicals would be minimal.

“Dilution is not a solution,” trumpeted Ms. Miller.

Director Clark was quizzed on all this.

“That stuff could get to Lake St. Clair?”

“All I can say is what we are doing is analyzing now what the levels are (and) how it travels. I don’t have all that information in front of me but our team is working on it.”

One would assume, to demonstrate competency instead of ineptness, she can assure residents that the state will make sure that will never happen.

“Can you make that promise?” she was asked.

“I can’t promise anything,” she said, while the oozing continues.