News Feature | November 19, 2018

PFAS Testimony Suggests Weak Response From Michigan

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Michigan has been slow to respond to PFAS contamination despite having information about this threat several years ago.

Robert Delaney, a researcher with the state environmental agency, explained how this played out at a recent hearing.

“During his introduction to the hearing, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters praised Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) geologist Robert Delaney for his ‘foresight and bravery in sounding the alarm’ about PFAS contamination in Michigan,” Michigan Radio reported.

Delaney explained that “his 2012 report to former DEQ Director Dan Wyant recommending ways to combat the dangerous effects of PFAS went unheeded for five years, a fact that disturbed the scientist,” The Detroit News reported.

The report issued six years ago raised serious concerns about contamination.

“In his 2012 report, the state scientist and researcher wrote that increasing evidence pointed toward the role contaminants play in issues such as autism, schizophrenia and autoimmune diseases. But he acknowledged that because little was known about the thousands of chemicals in use commercially, verifying a cause and effect was difficult,” The Detroit News reported.

Delaney described the pressure he felt as events developed.

"In 2010, I began to feel that I was at the edge of the abyss looking into hell with the weight of the world on my shoulders," Delaney said, per The Detroit Free Press.

Delaney began testing for PFAS as soon as it hit the federal radar.

“When Delaney learned that the U.S. Department of Defense considered PFAS chemicals to be contaminants of emerging concern, Delaney asked a consultant of his to test a soil sample from Wurtsmith for PFOS and PFOA, two common chemicals in the PFAS family. They discovered that the soil was ‘highly contaminated,’” Michigan Radio reported.

Delaney gave some insight into why that may have happened.

“Director Wyant always said that he really didn’t know much about the environmental business,” Delaney said. “He knew how to work in government.”