PFAS News Roundup: Research suggests link with COVID-19, disposal methods increase contamination

PFAS News Roundup: Research suggests link with COVID-19, disposal methods increase contamination
July 17, 2020 Samantha Cantie

PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of widespread man-made chemicals that don’t break down in the environment or the human body and have been flagged as a major contaminant in sources of water across the country.

Keep up with PFAS-related developments in the Great Lakes area.

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Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation last week that requires local fire departments not to use PFAS-containing foam in training drills and to report any other use of the firefighting foam within 48 hours.

The new law also requires state regulators to create a program to collect firefighting foam concentrate containing intentionally added PFAS from local fire departments.

Rep. Dan Kildee from Michigan has introduced new legislation that would ensure firefighters exposed to PFAS chemicals at military installations get the health care services needed through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Currently, military firefighters that are exposed to firefighting foam containing PFAS are not guaranteed health care to respond to that exposure.

The PFAS Task Force has announced that $200 million has been secured to help to clean up harmful PFAS substances at former military bases such as former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda.

“Oscoda residents continue to deal with toxic chemicals in their drinking water and their lakes. Clean drinking water is a human right, and this funding will help to clean up PFAS contamination in communities across the country who are struggling with these toxic chemicals,” said Rep. Dan Kildee. “I want to thank Chairwoman Lowey and Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz for working with me to include this important funding.”


The City of Rhinelander will test for PFAS in the discharge liquid, or leachate, of its long-closed city landfill. The Common Council approved that action this week.

Also this week, the city’s PFAS consultant, Dr. Jim Tinjum, released a white paper with further information on the issue and its potential causes. Tinjum is an environmental engineer at UW-Madison.

Two of Rhinelander’s five municipal wells are currently offline after the discovery of high levels of PFAS in 2019.

The public had the opportunity to provide input on PFAS contamination in Marinette, Peshtigo and surrounding communities during two Department of Natural Resources online listening sessions on Wednesday. Representatives from the DNR were on hand from noon to 2 p.m. and 6 to 7:30 p.m. to provide a brief overview, answer questions and hear concerns regarding PFAS investigation, cleanup and any health-related issues.

The state Natural Resources Board has unanimously approved allowing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to begin drafting regulations to enforce restrictions on firefighting foam that contains chemicals known as PFAS.

Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill earlier this year that bans the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS except in emergencies. The bill also­­­­­ allows testing and storage under specific conditions. The DNR must come up with regulations to put the restrictions in place by September. Kate Strom Hirons, the agency’s solid waste section chief, said fire departments can still store and contain firefighting foam that contains PFAS. They’re not required to dispose of it.


Late last month, the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a report saying studies suggest that exposure to high levels of PFAS could suppress the immune system and increase the risk of getting COVID-19 and the severity of infection.

The agency’s report was followed by an opinion piece from some of the nation’s leading PFAS researchers, including Jamie DeWitt of East Carolina University. The article was published July 6 in Environmental Health News.

Many questions still remain about the potential impact PFAS exposure can have on the immune system, but a review of the existing literature offers some insight into how these chemicals may be exacerbating the effects of COVID-19 and suggests some additional areas of inquiry, writes Lauren Brown, senior scientist for Abt Associates.

The currently stalled PFAS Action Act of 2019 could get implemented by being added to a defense spending bill in the upcoming fiscal year’s budget.

The PFAS Action Act of 2019 passed the House in a 247-159 vote on Jan. 10 but has sat in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works since then.

With no apparent action coming from the upper chamber, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, reached out to colleagues to refile the resolution as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act later this week.

According to a study published in Chemosphere, scientists at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Washington, D.C., have concluded that burning, discarding and flushing waste containing the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS all contribute to environmental contamination.

The three standard practices for waste management outlined in the review, such as landfilling, wastewater treatment and incineration, have been found to not effectively contain or destroy PFAS.

Catch up with other PFAS headlines and news from Great Lakes Now:

PFAS News Roundup: Potential COVID-19 connection, DOD bill, Michigan lakes and rivers with PFAS foam

PFAS News Roundup: Michigan collects 30k gallons foam, New York burning restrictions, Wisconsin leads 22-state coalition

MPART: Michigan’s efforts to root out and deal with PFAS contamination

Coping with PFAS: How have families been dealing with PFAS contamination in their communities

PFAS Around the Great Lakes Region: Actions taken in each state or province and standards set, if any

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Featured image: A mannequin wears a face mask at the Citadel Outlets in Commerce, Calif., Thursday, July 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)


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