Whitmer orders state agencies to find alternatives to 'forever chemicals'

click to enlarge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer - State of Michigan
State of Michigan
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called on state officials Wednesday to drastically reduce the purchase of products containing a toxic class of chemicals known as PFAS.

PFAS – or "forever chemicals" – have been found in the groundwater in Michigan and have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, liver damage, birth defects, and other ailments and can reduce vaccine effectiveness.

Whitmer signed an executive order that instructs state agencies and departments to prioritize the purchase of products that don’t contain PFAS.

PFAS, first developed in the 1940s, are a hazardous family of human-made chemicals used in many consumer and industrial products, such as firefighting foam, tanneries, cell phones, cookware, food packaging, metal platers, Scotchgard, and Teflon.

"PFAS are dangerous, man-made chemicals that pose a threat to our health," Whitmer said in a statement. "While this is a good step, we still have so much more to do to address these forever chemicals. We need to lead with science and work together to keep families safe and ensure Michigan continues leading the nation when it comes to protecting people from toxic contaminants."

Environmental groups said Whitmer’s order is an important step in combating the dangers of PFAS.

"This is a ground-breaking and important action by Governor Whitmer on behalf of the people of Michigan," Tony Spaniola, co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network, said. "The Governor's Executive Directive makes clear that forever chemicals have no place in our bodies or our environment.We urge businesses across Michigan to follow Governor Whitmer's lead and remove PFAS from the products they sell, not just to state agencies, but to all Michiganders. And we call on the legislature to take immediate action to more broadly limit the sale of products containing PFAS."

In September, an environmental advocacy group revealed that six military bases in the Great Lakes region, including three in Michigan, have high levels of PFAS that are contaminating the groundwater.

There are no national standards for testing fish for PFAS, despite studies that have found the chemicals in Great Lake trout and salmon.

Michigan recently began offering guidelines to limit the consumption of fish contaminated with PFAS.

U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens, both Michigan Democrats, co-sponsored the PFAS Action Act, which passed in August, that requires the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a national drinking water standard for some of the chemicals within two years.

State Sen. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, said Whitmer’s directive sets the stage for more significant action against polluters.

"We are capable of limiting our exposure to these toxic chemicals, and this directive sets important groundwork for substantial change," Brinks said. "I'm grateful the governor is making this move, and I am committed to continuing the long and hard work necessary in the legislature to hold corporate polluters accountable and bring justice, safety and security to our residents."

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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