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Categorized | News

City investigates PFAS at lagoon and discharge sites

By Judy Reed

The City of Cedar Springs and EGLE (Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy), are investigating why PFAS would be found at both the old lagoon site at the end of West Street, and the current wastewater discharge site south of Indian Lakes in Algoma Township.

According to Mike Womack, the Cedar Springs City Manager, the City of Cedar Springs undertook PFAS testing on its municipal water supply in 2017 and 2018 and testing found that the City’s water supply was “non-detect” for both PFOA and PFOS. “This testing helps City residents be sure that the City water that comes out of the tap in their homes has no PFOA or PFOS in the water,” he said. 

Subsequent to testing of the City’s municipal water supply, Womack said the City began working with EGLE (formerly known as MDEQ) to test the City’s current and former wastewater treatment locations for PFAS chemicals. Initial testing found that there were PFOA detections of between non-detection and 43 parts per trillion at those testing locations. At the time of that testing, all of those findings were below the 70 parts per trillion limitations imposed by both the Federal EPA and also the State MDEQ/EGLE. 

In August of 2020, the State of Michigan changed the permitted PFOA levels down to 8 parts per trillion, causing some of the City’s current and former wastewater treatment locations to potentially be in violation of the newly lowered limitations. Subsequent testing at some of those locations found their PFOA numbers to be reduced, including some reduced below the lowered State of Michigan limitations. 

The Lagoon site is the former location of the clean-water discharge from the City’s wastewater system. The Lagoon site was constructed in 1965 and was used to help clean and infiltrate wastewater before being released back into nature as clean water. The Lagoon system was removed from service in 1999 after all wastewater treatment was taken over by the City’s wastewater treatment plant. Womack said that the construction and operation of the Lagoon site, the monitoring and testing of the Lagoon site during operations, the closure of the Lagoon site and the monitoring and testing of the Lagoon site after closure has all been done in accordance with MDEQ/EGLE rules.

The “discharge site” is the current location that water from the City’s wastewater treatment plant is released back into nature after that water is cleaned, it is located approximately 1 mile south of the City. Womack said that the construction and opening of the wastewater treatment plant, the operations and testing of the wastewater treatment plant and the operations and testing of the wastewater plant’s discharge location have all been done in accordance with MDEQ/EGLE rules.

So why would PFAS chemicals be detected at these sites? “Both the Lagoon site and the discharge site have been used by dozens of businesses and hundreds of residential homes since 1965,” explained Womack. “Since these locations are the end location for the City’s wastewater/sewer system, the presence of any PFAS chemicals at these sites are potentially the result of one or more of the City’s sewer system’s users depositing PFAS chemicals into the sewer system at some point since 1965. It is also possible that PFAS chemicals were present at either or both of these locations prior to 1965 or that the PFAS chemicals have been transported to these sites from unknown off-site locations. Since testing is ongoing and the potential timeframe for contamination is so long, nobody is currently aware of the origination of the PFAS chemicals at these two locations.”

PFAS is widely found in things we use every day—personal care items, food wrappers, non-stick cookware, even in our blood. It can also be found in the biosolids that farmers use on their fields.

As the City of Cedar Springs and EGLE work to determine the nature, cause and potential extent of PFAS chemicals in and around these two locations, Womack said it is important to recognize that City water users are not in danger of any type of PFAS exposure from their water supply at this time. 

“There might be groundwater well users in or around the southwest part of the City that have the potential of being exposed to PFAS chemicals from their groundwater supply. The most recent testing available indicates that the discharge site location in Algoma Township is below current PFAS limitations. Property owners in both of those locations are encouraged to test their own ground water supply for PFAS chemicals on their own or if they receive a letter from the City of Cedar Springs, to participate in the City’s water testing program,” explained Womack.

He also explained that city residents may be responsible for current, future or ongoing cleanup and/or monitoring activities related to contamination found at those locations, because it is city property, even if they didn’t cause it. 

“Those potential cleanups and/or monitoring activities which EGLE may mandate, have the potential to be prohibitively expensive and might also require significant new ongoing costs indefinitely into the future,” said Womack. “There is no funding that the City is aware of to help pay for these mandates from EGLE or the State of Michigan. The lack of funding for these new EGLE and State of Michigan mandates means that the full cost of any cleanup or monitoring is likely to fall onto the shoulders of City of Cedar Springs citizens and property owners through increased utility rates or taxes.”

Womack noted that the City of Cedar Springs is concerned with the health and well-being of all citizens, both inside and outside of the City of Cedar Springs, and will continually work to protect the health and well-being of all citizens.

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