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What Kalamazoo's latest water quality report has to say about PFAS

A young deer stands near a well, which is green, narrow and has a white pipe attached to one side and a skinnier grey pipe going to what looks like an electrical box that stands next to the well. The deer and the well are surrounded by greenery.
Sehvilla Mann
A deer stands near equipment at a Kalamazoo wellfield near Howard Street and Crosstown Parkway, August 20, 2019.

The City of Kalamazoo wants to eliminate PFAS from its drinking water. But that will take a while.

It’s the time of year when the City of Kalamazoo sends out its annual quality report for its drinking water. One category of contaminants it reports on is PFAS. The city says it detected five kinds of PFAS when it sampled the water early this year, the same five it found in 2021.

Public Services Director James Baker told WMUK the levels of all five chemicals are below the limit the state set in 2020, when it tightened rules on PFAS in the water supply.

But Baker said the city wants to go further, eventually getting all PFAS out of its water system and keeping them out. Next year it’ll begin a $19 million project to upgrade a water treatment plant that’s near a PFAS plume.

"We want to make sure that we’re protecting the system and ensuring resiliency over the next 50 years," Baker said.

He added that the work is expected to take about three years.

One of the challenges in getting to "PFAS-free" status is that it’s hard to say with present lab tests when there are zero PFAS in a sample. Baker said available tests go down to about two parts per trillion. But he added that federal regulators seem to expect that to improve as they consider setting standards near the limit of detection.

"Once that happens, I think we can kind of remove some of that fog, so to speak, and see all the way down to zero. That’s going to help inform, you know, future strategy and next steps."

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed levels even lower than Michigan’s for two compounds, PFOS and PFOA. But they’re still in the draft stage.

Portage and Battle Creek

Portage has detected four PFAS in its drinking water. As in Kalamazoo, they are all in amounts below the state's limits. In an email, Portage City Manager Pat McGinnis said the city has found two areas with PFAS in the groundwater, "the Airport and South Westnedge Park." He said neither is close to drinking water wells, and "Portage does not have any plans currently to treat for PFAS."

"Should we determine there is risk in the future, we will take immediate steps to guarantee the protection of our drinking water supply," he added.

In its latest water quality report, Battle Creek said it did not detect any PFAS in the city's drinking water.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. She covered those topics and more in eight years of reporting for the Station, before becoming news director in 2022.