PFAS contamination in drinking water is something Anthony Spaniola has been telling people about for years.
Spaniola lives on Van Etten Lake near Wurtsmith Air Force in Oscoda. Thick white foam has been seen there. Foam that Spaniola believes is associated with PFAS.
It turns out Oscoda may not be the only trouble spot.
"It's a problem that affects everyone," Spaniola said.
According to its website, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is investigating 32 PFAS sites statewide. Twelve of those locations can be found in Mid-Michigan, including high concentrations of PFAS in the old Buick City site in Flint and the old Roosevelt Refinery location in Mt. Pleasant.
Spaniola fears more residents across the state will learn they have PFAS in their own backyard.
"I feel really badly for them because I know how they feel," Spaniola said.
PFAS was used during the past century in manufacturing, firefighting, and thousands of consumer products. In the last few years scientists have raised concerns on how high levels of PFAS can affect humans.
Tom Bruton is with the Green Science Policy Institute in California. He has a PhD in environmental engineering and has researched PFAS for years.
"PFAS, or at least the ones that have been studied the most, are linked to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, reproductive problems, high cholesterol, and one that's really interesting is decreased immune function in children. It's going to be extremely difficult to eliminate PFAS from our environment because they are pervasive, they don't break down, they've spread throughout the globe," Bruton said.
Despite that, Spaniola believes there is more the state can do. Starting with lowering the safe level of PFAS in drinking water from 70 parts per trillion down to one part per trillion.
"The fact that they've continued to cling to a standard of 70 parts per trillion for drinking water I think has been very ill advised. Not in keeping with the science although they like to say that it is," Spaniola said.
Genesee County Commissioner David Martin represents Richfield Township. A shuttered landfill there is one of the 32 PFAS sites the state is investigating. Martin believes the state is doing what it can.
"The state is probably doing as much as possible with the science they have. The science of repairing the whole issue and mediating PFAS out of the environment is going to take a much larger scale than the state might be able to provide, " Martin said.
TV5 has sent several emails requesting an interview with the state's director of the PFAS Action Response Team, Carol Isaacs. But our most recent emails have gone unanswered.
In October, her boss Gov. Rick Snyder issued a directive to develop a PFAS readiness and response plan. Snyder released a statement about his directive.
"Michigan is leading the nation in addressing this emerging contaminant. To ensure we continue to lead on this issue and protect all Michiganders we need a framework that allows agencies to respond quickly and effectively to contamination in our communities. Under this directive, Michigan will have a readiness plan in place to ensure a timely and successful response to PFAS threats."
Congressman Dan Kildee represents many citizens who live near PFAS sites.
"I wish the state were more aggressive. The initial signs were that they were going to be," Kildee said.
Last month, Kildee secured a $1 million federal grant to help Oscoda residents switch from well water to clean municipal water.
Kildee said while he believes the state can do more, leaders at the federal level need to roll up their sleeves and do their part.
"This problem is a big problem. It's a national problem and it's going to have to be addressed on a national scale," Kildee said.
As for Spaniola, he said early on he was viewed as an alarmist when he tried to make the public aware of PFAS contamination. Now he hopes everyone is getting his message.
"We can mollify ourselves and hope that it goes away, but all we're doing is impacting our children, our grandchildren, and we need to put a stop to it," Spaniola said.
So what's next? Right now the MDEQ is testing all municipal water systems throughout the state for PFAS.