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Kalamazoo unveils a multimillion-dollar plan to get PFAS out of its drinking water

sign on the side of the building that says Environmental Protection Agency
Joshua A. Bickel
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sign outside the Andrew W. Breidenbach Environmental Research Center, Feb. 17, 2023, in Cincinnati. The Environmental Protection Agency has designated two "forever chemicals" that have been used in cookware, carpets and firefighting foams as hazardous substances.

PFAS levels in the city's drinking water comply with state standards, but one station is testing above new EPA limits for the toxic "forever" chemicals.

The City of Kalamazoo has until 2029 to comply with new PFAS regulations put in place by the Biden-Harris administration. In response, it has revealed a roughly $50 million plan to filter PFAS out of its drinking water to comply with the new rules.

Kalamazoo plans to consolidate and upgrade two treatment stations, 5 and 14. One of the stations is testing slightly over the EPA's new PFAS requirements, which are stricter than the state's and much more stringent than the EPA's previous rules for PFAS in drinking water.

"Exposure to PFAS has been linked to deadly cancers, impacts to the liver and heart, and immune and developmental damage to infants and children. This final rule represents the most significant step to protect public health under EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap," the EPA Press Office said in a statement.

Funding the City of Kalamazoo project could raise rates about $8 a month on average. But the city will apply for state funding to offset those costs. Director of Public Services James Baker said the city likely won’t know until the end of the summer if it will receive the funding.

“This is something that we compete for against every other water system in the state of Michigan, so it is very, very competitive,” said Baker.

Some of the state’s money could come from federal dollars set aside to address PFAS contamination.

The federal government and other parties may, in turn, seek to recoup costs from PFAS manufacturers or companies that use them. The Biden-Harris administration recently designated two PFAS, PFOS and PFOA, as "hazardous substances" under the CERCLA or Superfund law. Superfund aims to make polluters pay for cleanups.

The public will have a chance to comment on Kalamazoo's proposed project at the City Commission meeting on May 20th. Kalamazoo hopes to start the engineering process later this year.