PFAS, CAFOs and other environmental concerns continue
Communities across Michigan and the nation are confronting emerging environmental problems – and 2019 provided some high-profile examples from PFAS to CAFOs.
High levels of fluorochemical contamination at Viking Corp., reported in January by state officials, were found in shallow groundwater in the vicinity.
Tests did not detect these compounds in the Hastings municipal water system or the Thornapple River, state, county and city officials confirmed.
The elevated levels of poly- and perfluorinated substances, or PFAS, in shallow groundwater environmental monitoring wells at Viking “may be related to our use of a common type of firefighting foam in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” Jeff Norton, Viking vice president of marketing said.
“The risk to the public is very, very low,” Barry-Eaton District Health Department Health Officer Colette Scrimger said. Currently, there are no known drinking water sources in the flow of the groundwater that was found to contain PFAS.
This was the county health department’s first real involvement in a PFAS site, Scrimger said. “And our involvement is limited since there is not an immediate public health threat.”
Scrimger called PFAS an emerging health issue about which not enough is yet known.
Another environmental concern for Hastings and Barry County are large concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, which produce a lot of manure in a small area.
The Four-Township Water Resources Council Inc. is a nonprofit organization created to educate and support the watersheds that pass through Barry and Prairieville townships in Barry County, and Ross and Richland townships in Kalamazoo County,
Dr. Kenneth Kornheiser is the founder and vice president of the council and president of the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council.
In the four townships, there are currently two dairy CAFOs (one on Cressey, just west of Lockshore, and one on Parker, along the east shoreline of lower Crooked Lake and the channel between Lower and Middle Crooked Lake, north of Milo; and one beef CAFO on AB Avenue near M-43; and a smaller swine operation on Parker Road, south of Milo, he said.
One of the issues that gave rise to the topic was the expansion of one of the large dairies in the region, Kornheiser said.
Officials from Michigan Department of Environmental Quality – now called the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy – said a general permit is typically a permit that most facilities can operate under “and it covers about 80 percent of our farms.”
And, in some cases, a farm operation may not require permitting if it doesn’t handle the manure directly.
For example, three farms in the region use an operator who manages the manure for all three, he said. “They move a lot of manure in a hurry.”
Permits are typically redone every five years, said Bruce Washburn, environmental quality analyst for Southwest Michigan, EGLE, and 2020 is the year for that, so changes may be made.
Washburn described the regulatory framework that dictates his responsibilities regarding CAFOs and how manure is supposed to be handled.
“We have to work within the confines of the laws that we’re given,” he said. “Our law is to protect surface water.”
Washburn said he’s responsible for three counties and 60 farms. “I cannot be at 60 places at once,” he said. “That’s why I like this interaction.”
The role being described for residents was something Lynn Henning called “citizen scientists,” which she said are needed to effectively police CAFOs.
Speaking at a public meeting, Henning urged people to be Washburn’s “eyes and ears on the ground.”
Henning said she believes Michigan is moving toward a compliance system rather than an enforcement system. At one time, the state responded promptly to violations. “They don’t have the staff to do that today.”
“I think we should be the example for the entire country,” Henning said, adding, “I think we can do a lot better.”
A field coordinator for SRAP and a Goldman Environmental Prize winner, Henning encouraged audience members to reach out if they have questions or need help.
Kornheiser expressed the opinion that taxpayers brought the situation upon themselves by seeking an environment with fewer regulations. “Your tax dollars pay for the regulation you deserve,” he said. As a result, “you get what you don’t pay for.”