Fixing PFAS notification process isn’t debatable

Analysis paralysis seems to have its grip on state environmental policymakers.

And the inaction places more Michiganders’ health in danger.

Two weeks have passed since the Record-Eagle turned a spotlight toward state and local officials’ failure to place the health of East Bay Township residents ahead of scientific dogma.

To refresh everyone’s memory, a reporter recently found records that show state and local officials had flagged about 20 homes near Traverse City’s airport they believed were at risk of exposure to PFAS chemicals through private water wells. Those same officials wrote letters and emails to one another about the danger to people who live nearby for eight months before they told residents who live in those homes they may be drinking contaminated water.

When confronted with the blunder, the officials hid behind a grotesque form of scientific gaslighting as they explained why they withheld information about the potential contamination. Their most persistent defense for keeping people in the dark: they didn’t want to cause panic.

In hindsight, the risk of a short period of angst seems downright palatable when compared to eight unnecessary months of cooking with, showering in, and drinking contaminated water.

We were encouraged to learn the fumble, and potential process reform were on the agenda for a meeting of the Citizen’s Advisory Workgroup for the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team — that’s the team in the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy in charge of responding to PFAS contamination sites.

But our hope quickly gave way to disappointment this week when the group met. It’s clear many members of the advisory group believe the flawed process incorrectly placed scientific process above affected people’s health. Yet, the department’s leaders, instead of simply making immediate changes to correct an obvious problem, they sent the issue to a subcommittee of the advisory group.

We’re left wondering what there is to discuss? Why can’t state officials simply install a rule that guarantees the first people to know about potential groundwater contamination are the ones who might be drinking it?

There simply isn’t any defending a system that would place people who may be drinking contaminated water last on the priority list of folks to inform.

Yet, that’s how the system worked in this case, and it’s the system that, for reasons that defy common sense, remains in place today.

We appreciate the citizens’ advisory council’s efforts, and the time members devote to PFAS-related issues in our state.

But state leaders’ unwillingness to simply and swiftly correct and prevent such an obvious and damaging process is unfathomable.

Unfortunately, it appears leaders responsible for protecting Michiganders have once again prioritized process above people.

— Traverse City Record-Eagle


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