Water Treatment

PFAS Information

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What is PFAS?

It is an abbreviation for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances which are man-made chemicals used in metal plating and a wide variety of consumer products including fire-suppressing foam, carpets, paints, polishes and waxes. The most studied types of PFAS are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluoroctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).

What are the advisory levels for PFAS?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a lifetime health advisory level for the combined amount of PFOS and PFOA in drinking water not to exceed 70 parts per trillion (ppt). That is the level, or amount, below which no harm is expected from these chemicals, based on daily consumption over a lifetime. The State of Michigan has indicated their intent to regulate PFAS and develop a maximum contaminant level by October 2019. City staff will be following the regulatory process.

What are the levels of PFAS in Ann Arbor’s drinking water?
In 2019, PFOA and PFOS levels in Ann Arbor’s drinking water have been less than 10 ppt. As part of our action plan, it is our goal to keep PFOS and PFOA below 10 ppt, significantly below the 70 ppt health advisory level. Levels for the 24 PFAS that we are testing for twice per month can be found on this webpage. Ultimately, our goal is to work with local and state partners to eliminate PFAS at the source and keep it from entering our waterways.
What is being done to protect our drinking water from PFAS?
In 2018 and 2019, the city installed a new type of granular activated carbon in our filters to increase removal of PFAS from our drinking water. The filters have been working as expected and the levels of PFAS have further dropped below the EPA’s health advisory levels, some to undetectable amounts.

How does the MDHHS new health screening limits for PFAS affect the city?

On April 4, 2019, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) ​published health screening levels for five PFAS: PFOS, PFOA, PFNA, PFHxS and PFBS. The city’s current PFAS management strategy remains more restrictive than current regulations and is protective of public health, even with the announcement of these new screening levels. The city anticipates that new information on PFAS health impacts will continue to be released over the coming months and year. The city is committed to reviewing all new information and will adjust its management strategy as necessary to ensure public health is protected.

Why doesn’t the city test for PFAS at my home?PFAS concentrations do not change from the water treatment plant to your home, therefore, there is no need to test for PFAS within homes.

Can people bathe and swim in water containing PFAS?

The MDHHS has issued a “Do Not Eat Fish” advisory for the Huron River and advises people and their pets to avoid foam on the Huron River. Foam can have much higher amounts of PFAS than the water, and swallowing foam with PFAS could be a health risk. Swimming or bathing in water containing PFAS is not a health concern because the amount of PFAS is typically low compared to the foam. Although swallowing PFAS is the main way to get it in your body, an accidental swallow of river or lake water is not a health concern. Although, current science indicates PFAS does not move easily through the skin, it’s best to rinse off foam, including family pets, after contact and bathe or shower after the day’s outdoor activities. None of this information changes recommendations for people’s water used at home. The City of Ann Arbor installed hand-rinsing stations in close proximity to the city’s canoe liveries in August 2019. These stations are in addition to hand-washing facilities available in public restrooms at the liveries.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Service (MDHHS) Huron River ‘Do Not Eat Fish’ Consumption Advisory​. More information about PFAS and foam is under the PFAS Foam section at Michigan.gov/pfasresponse

What are you doing to protect our waterways?

We continue to leverage our partnerships with local organizations, such as the Huron River Watershed Council, to help ensure that our watershed is adequately protected from substances that might impact your drinking water. In addition, the city is lobbying to ensure that the state and its environmental regulatory agencies remain focused on protecting our waterways. While emerging contaminants may continue to be detected, our dedicated staff are prepared to not only face these challenges, but also remain an industry leader in pioneering solutions.

Where can I view PFAS test results?
Each month, the city publishes to the top of this webpage the independent lab verified testing results of PFAS in the source water and finished drinking water.  

Does the City's Fire Department use firefighting foam with PFAS in it?
No, in the fall of 2018, the AAFD immediately halted the use of foam containing PFAS for traini​ng purposes and purchased an alternative option for fighting flammable liquid fires such as gasoline, oil and other hydrocarbons. The old foam was disposed of properly via a regulated waste disposal company.​​​
Has the city tested for PFAS in compost?

Yes, in our continuing efforts to support and investigate possible sources of PFAS, we had an independent lab test Ann Arbor’s compost. 

What were the results?

Results tested positive for low levels of 13 types of PFAS ranging from 0.040 parts per billion (ppb) to 17 ppb. Soil samples are measured in ppb. The water in the ponds at the compost facility was also sampled and tested positive for 12 types of PFAS ranging from 0.44 parts per trillion (ppt) to 680 ppt. See complete results: Compost Facility PFAS Sampling Data.  

What is compost and how it is useful?
Compost is decomposed organic material made with items such as leaves, shredded twigs, and kitchen food scraps. It provides many essential nutrients for plant growth and therefore is often used as fertilizer.

​Are there advisory levels for PFAS in compost?
At this time, there are no established testing methods or health advisory guidelines for compost materials. Even though there are no scientifically approved methods for testing PFAS in soil or established health advisory guidelines for using PFAS containing compost, the city felt it was important to test the compost and to let its residents know the results.

​How did PFAS get in the compost?
Solid waste facilities, such as landfills and compost sites receive PFAS-containing items, such as grease-resistant paper, fast food containers, microwave popcorn bags, fertilizer bags, water-resistant clothing, nonstick cookware, cleaning products and stain-resistant carpet. Although these items are prohibited in the city’s compost program, several of these items are improperly placed in compost carts.

​What are other cities learning about PFAS in compost?
There are very few cities testing for PFAS in compost and thus there is very little data available.

Where is Ann Arbor’s compost applied?
Ann Arbor’s compost facility provides compost to some of its city parks for topsoil. Also, free compost is available to city residents in the spring and it is sold via the city’s vendor: We Care Organics. 

What is the city doing to understand the effects of PFAS in compost?
The city is carefully following this issue at the national level and is exploring opportunities for researching sources of PFAS in compost. We will continue to monitor incoming compost for improper materials and expand our education to residents about acceptable compost materials. While emerging contaminants may continue to be detected, the city’s dedicated staff are prepared to not only face these challenges, but also to remain an industry leader in pioneering solutions. 

What can I do to keep PFAS out of compost materials?
Share your knowledge with family and neighbors of the importance of keeping only acceptable materials in curbside compost bins and bags. Let others know that PFAS containing products should never be added to compost bins and bags. For a list of acceptable materials visit www.a2gov.org/compost.

​​Additional information​

To learn more about PFAS and what you can do to prevent being exposed or using products with PFAS, here a few good resources: 

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Brian Steglitz,
Water Treatment Services Manager

919 Sunset Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Phone: 734.794.6426​
Email: water@a2gov.org

Business Hours: M-F 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (except city holidays)​

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for water emergencies: 734.994.2840