Watershed Health Information
This page is dedicated to updating you about different issues within the watershed.
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What is/are PFAS?
PFAS is actually a group of chemicals. There are as many as 3,000 types of PFAS. PFAS stands for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. PFOA (perflourooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) are two common types of PFAS that the DEQ and municipalities test for. Most types of PFAS are resistant to heat, oil, and water. Because they're a resistant chemical, they can stick around in the environment for long periods of time.
Where does PFAS come from?
PFAS is a manufactured chemical and is used in many ways. It's used in a variety of every-day objects: nonstick cookware, paper food wrappers, carpeting, cleaning supplies, and waterproof materials. On the industrial side it is used in metal plating, paper manufacturing, fabric and leather treating, and fire-fighting foams.
How does PFAS get in water?
High amounts of PFAS are found in fire-fighting foams, used mostly on air force and military bases for practice operations. Back in the 1950s and 60s, it was considered a scientific breakthrough. It wasn't until the 1970s and 80s when PFAS began being studied closer for health-related problems. Then in the early 2000s PFAS was found to be contaminating drinking water.
PFAS gets into our rivers, streams, groundwater, and lakes through contaminated runoff or contaminated infiltration. When certain fire-fighting foams are used, they often flow into water sources. In manufacturing that uses PFAS for their products, wastewater coming from the plant may have high levels of PFAS that had gone undetected until recently.
What are the risks of PFAS?
PFAS, when ingested, has been linked to hormone irregularities, increased cholesterol, thyroid disease, decreased fertility in women, developmental issues in infants and older children, and increased risks of kidney and testicular cancers.
Using water with PFAS to bathe or launder clothes hasn't been found to pose any health risks.
How do I know if my water has PFAS?
You can click here to find your county and drinking water supply tested by the DEQ in 2018. Please note that the EPA's lifetime health advisory level for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water is 70ppt (parts per trillion). More research is being done and is needed to determine if this level is acceptable and accurate in that it doesn't pose a threat to people's health. Michigan's Water Quality Standard levels for PFOS in streams not used for drinking water is 12ppt while the level for streams that are used for drinking water is 11ppt.
To put these numbers in perspective, one ppt is the equivalent of a grain of sugar in one Olympic size swimming pool.
You can call the State of Michigan Environmental Assistance Center at 800-662-9278 for any questions about PFAS.
Where are PFAS risks in the River Raisin Watershed?
Two sites on the Saline River in Washtenaw County have elevated levels of PFOS and PFOA in groundwater. One site is the former Universal Die Cast Company which is near some residential wells. The water within the wells has shown non-detect for PFOS and PFOA and will continue to be monitored. Visit this website which is dedicated to updates at this specific site.
The other location is at the Ford Motor Company Plant in Saline. All residents near the plant are connected to municipal water supply (municipal water monitoring results here) and have no elevated levels of PFAS. Visit this website which is dedicated to updates at the Ford Motor Company Plant in Saline.
What do I do if my water has PFAS?
If your water has over 70ppt of PFOS and PFOA, or if you don't feel comfortable with the set levels, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recommends you do not use your well water for drinking, cooking, making baby formula or food, washing fruits or vegetables, or brushing your teeth, unless your water is filtered using a system certified to reduce PFOA and PFAS. You may consider buying and using bottled water.
Can I eat fish from the River Raisin?
There have been no levels of PFAS found in fish tested in the River Raisin. Click here for more information about eating fish from different areas in the state of Michigan. While there haven't been PFAS risks in fish in the River Raisin, there are risks from PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyl) downstream of the dam in Dundee. Click here for the 2018 Eat Safe Fish Guide of Michigan. The Guide is up-to-date except there is no information of PFAS in it.
What is being done to get rid of PFAS?
MDEQ launched MPART (Michigan PFAS Action Response Team) in 2017 to locate and eliminate PFAS threats, protect drinking water supplies, and inform the public about PFAS. MPART is made of many different agencies working together toward these goals.
MDEQ initiated processes at Wastewater Treatment Plants to reduce and eliminate PFAS entering into municipal treatment plants from industrial sources. Routine sampling is required at these treatment plants to ensure PFAS isn't entering streams and rivers.
MDEQ is continuing to test drinking water supplies and certain public water suppliers and schools that have their own wells. Click here for continuous updated testing information across Michigan.
MDEQ has compiled information on health concerns people may have regarding PFAS. Click here to learn more.
NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) has certified certain water filtration systems that filter out PFOS and PFOA. Click here to read more about these filters and who is certifying them. Other types of non-certified filters can be found on the same page. No matter what type of filter you use, you must keep up with regular maintenance to keep the filters doing what they're supposed to do.
Helpful Links and Sources
What are algae blooms?
Algae is a naturally occurring plant-like organism that grows in many different forms in water. When too many nutrients get into waterways, algae soaks it up and grows rapidly - we call that a bloom. Water temperature also plays a role. Warmer temperatures tend to create ideal conditions for algae to bloom. We usually see large algae blooms starting as early as mid June through early September.
What are harmful algae blooms?
There are many kinds of algae and some species have the ability to produce toxins. The most common toxin-producing algae in the Great Lakes Region is called cyanobacteria or blue-green algae. The most common toxin it can produce is called microsystin, though it can produce other toxins. Scientists are still researching this type of algae to learn why it sometimes produces these toxins, but have gathered that it is related to weather (temperature and amount of rainfall) and types of nutrients feeding the algae bloom.
It is impossible to tell if an algae bloom is producing toxins just by looking at it. Tests must be done to detect the toxins. If you see an algae bloom, always err on the side of caution and stay out of the water.
Where do nutrients that cause algae blooms come from?
Nutrients include Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and other things that make plants grow. Nutrients get into our water in many ways:
Applying too much fertilizer on lawns or farm fields
Applying fertilizer on lawns or farm fields before a rain (rain washes it off the land)
Water that runs off of parking lots, sidewalks, and streets into storm drains
Certain kinds of detergents if not disposed of properly
An excess amount of fecal matter (from broken septic tanks, large goose populations, and not picking up after our pets)
Wastewater treatment plants that aren't functioning properly
What do I do if I see an algae bloom?
Do not swim, boat, or fish in a suspected algae bloom. Always follow signs posted at the site regarding water safety. If you find an algae bloom, call or email the Michigan Dept. of Environment Great Lakes and Energy, EGLE, (1-800-662-9278 or AlgaeBloom@michigan.gov). They will test the algae for toxins and alert authorities to keep people and their pets safe. Visit the EGLE website for more information.
What are the health risks of algae blooms?
If toxins are present in an algae bloom, they can cause the following health risks in humans who swam in, drank, or inhaled the affected water:
Skin irritation, including rash, hives, or blisters
Nose and throat irritation, causing coughing or sore throat
Abdominal pain, possibly causing vomiting or diarrhea
Headaches or dizziness
Difficulty breathing or asthma-like symptoms
Symptoms can start immediately or within days for humans. These types of toxins can be life-threatening. If you think you are experiencing these symptoms due to contact with an algae bloom, call your healthcare provider and/or the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. If your symptoms are severe, get emergency medical treatment immediately.
If toxins are present in an algae bloom, they can cause the following health risks for dogs who swam in, drank, or inhaled the affected water:
Vomiting or diarrhea
Staggered walking or erratic behavior
Convulsions or other physical distress
Dogs show sypmtoms more quickly than humans. These kinds of toxins can be lethal to your dog. If you think your dog is experiencing these symptoms due to contact with an algae bloom, call your vet immediately.
What should I do if my child or dog was exposed to an algae bloom?
Remember that not all algae blooms produce toxins, but it's best to treat them as if they do.
If your child or dog swam in or drank water in a suspected algae bloom:
Immediately wash them off with clean water
Monitor their behavior and health
Call your healthcare provider/Poison Control Center/veterinarian if symptoms begin
Can I still swim, boat, or fish in an algae bloom?
It is not recommended to do any of these activities during an algae bloom. Not all algae blooms produce toxins, but if they do even inhaling water droplets can cause health problems (see above for list).
Eating fish from water with an algae bloom is not recommended. Toxins can build up in the organs of fish. The toxicity of the fish depends on the severity of the harmful algal bloom, the length of time of the bloom, and other factors. Always follow the Eat Safe Fish guidelines.
What other problems can algae blooms cause?
Algae blooms cause a variety of issues in the environment:
Dead Zones - As algae blooms run out of nutrients to consume, they die. Algae consumes lots of oxygen as it decomposes, making it hard or impossible for other fish and animals to get oxygen to breathe. Plants that lived below the surface may have died as the algae blocked sunlight from reaching them. This, in turn, makes it harder to replenish the oxygen lost to the decomposing algae. When there is not enough oxygen in the water, fish must move to other areas or die. We call areas with low or no oxygen hypoxic.
Animal Deaths - Animals that live in or near water affected by an algae bloom can get sick or die because of the toxins that algae may have produced. Many animals that swim in the water groom their fur (think muskrat, beaver, etc.), accidentally consuming the toxins from the algae.
Algae blooms also affect our economy:
Closing beaches/shutting down recreation (fishing charters/boat rentals, etc.) - Tourism is severely affected during harmful algal blooms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calculates $82 million in losses across the country each year due to harmful algal blooms.
What can I do to prevent harmful algal blooms?
No matter where you live, there are many things you can do to reduce the amount of nutrients getting into our waterways! This will help prevent harmful algal blooms.
Pick up after your dog - Throw poop away in the garbage.
Use less fertilizer on your lawn - Always follow the directions on the bag and only apply if there is no rain in the forecast!
Keep a taller lawn - Mow at the highest setting or above 3 inches. Taller grass keeps more nutrients on your lawn!
Keep grass clippings on your lawn or garden - This can help you reduce the amount of fertilizer you need. More info here.
Plant native plants - These are better at keeping nutrients and water where you want it. More info here.
Keep an un-mowed or native plant buffer between your lawn and waterway - The buffer will catch extra nutrients coming from your lawn before they get into the water. More info here.
Try to keep geese away from your shoreline - Their poop adds excess nutrients to the water. Keep them away by planting gardens or keeping taller grass near the shoreline. More info here.