Michigan legislators approve $23M for contamination response


LANSING — State legislators have approved spending $23.2 million to address what state regulators said is an emerging problem of drinking water contamination caused by chemicals used in firefighting foams, cleaning products and industrial applications.

Contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, has been identified in 14 Michigan communities. It recently has drawn intense scrutiny north of Grand Rapids, where footwear company Wolverine Worldwide dumped waste sludge decades ago, and at or nearby multiple military bases.

The funding, included in a $52.8 million supplemental budget bill, would pay for response efforts, lab equipment, water sampling and other functions. Fifteen new state employees would be hired to help.

"We have no greater responsibility than to protect the public health of our constituents," said Rep. Chris Afendoulis, a Republican from Grand Rapids Township.

The chemicals are widespread in the environment and have been detected in blood of people and animals around the world, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The agency's website said scientists are uncertain about how they affect human health at exposure levels typically found in food and water. But some studies suggest the chemicals might affect fetal development, disrupt hormonal functions, damage fertility and immune systems, and boost the risk of cancer.

Gov. Rick Snyder a month ago signed an executive directive establishing a PFAS team to coordinate response efforts among local, state and federal agencies.

The legislation won approval from a Senate committee and both chambers in a matter of hours, on a 33-4 Senate vote and a 109-1 House vote.

The spending bill also includes a provision allowing a planned new state veterans home in Detroit to be located outside the city, which drew criticism from Democrats. The state Veterans Affairs Agency said it has had trouble finding an adequate place to build in Detroit. The measure would expand the project scope to include Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. If a site were not found in the tri-county region within 45 days, then the search would be expanded further to the greater southeast Michigan area.

Sen. David Knezek, a Dearborn Heights Democrat, said it would be "unconscionable" to ask Detroit residents to move an hour away to live in the facility. But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Hildenbrand, a Lowell Republican, said state officials "need that flexibility to find the right property and the right location." Michigan has two homes now, in Grand Rapids and Marquette, but plans to build a new one in the Detroit area and to replace and downsize the Grand Rapids facility. A third of the state's 640,000 veterans live in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

The bill includes $25 million for brownfield remediation and redevelopment, water asset management and drinking water monitoring. Of that total, $14 million would replace environmental cleanup money that has dried up. The money would come from the $35 million Michigan Infrastructure Fund.

The bill also calls for $1 million to train schools on water testing and includes the authorization of construction projects at Saginaw State University, four community colleges, a new state police post in the Grand Rapids area and upgrades at a state fish hatchery.

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