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Research finds more PFAS coming out of wastewater treatment plants than going in

Research finds more PFAS coming out of wastewater treatment plants than going in
April 14, 2022 Michigan Radio

By Tracy Samilton, Michigan Radio

The Great Lakes News Collaborative includes Bridge Michigan; Circle of Blue; Great Lakes Now at Detroit Public Television; and Michigan Radio, Michigan’s NPR News Leader; who work together to bring audiences news and information about the impact of climate change, pollution, and aging infrastructure on the Great Lakes and drinking water. This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Find all the work HERE.


New research from Western Michigan University indicates that wastewater treatment plants could have a negative effect on PFAS pollution.

PFAS (perfluorinated alkylated substances) are used by many industries. They’ve been linked to some cancers and developmental disorders. There are thousands of PFAS, most undetectable by current methods.

Matt Reeves is an Associate Professor of Hydrogeology at WMU. He and colleagues Ross Helmer and Daniel Cassidy recently detected more PFAS in the discharged water from wastewater treatment plants, than the water going into the plant.

He said that’s likely because undetectable PFAS entering the plant are likely subjected to aeration and oxygenation inside the plant.

“They can cause some of these compounds that we can’t detect in the influent water. It can transform and change the molecular structure into some of the compounds that we can see,” he said.

Moreover, the PFAS in the water coming out of the plant are often forms which can persist for decades or longer in the environment without breaking down, he said.

Reeves said the phenomenon needs further study, and the health effects of different PFAS also need further study.

Michigan currently has some of the strictest drinking water and groundwater standards in the nation. The state’s clean-up criteria are 8 parts per trillion for PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and 16 parts per trillion for PFOS (perflurooctane sulfonic acid).

The state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy has dozens of investigations into PFAS contamination across the state.


Catch more news at Great Lakes Now: 

PFAS News Roundup: Pennsylvania sets regulations, judge says Wisconsin DNR can’t regulate, Chemours uses climate change to defend PFAS

PFAS is a widespread problem. The solution needs to come from widespread sources


Featured image: State environmental agency worker testing water. (Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes And Energy via Michigan Radio)

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