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Michigan appeals court upholds decision striking down water rules on 'forever chemicals'

CBS News Detroit Digital Brief for August 23, 2023
CBS News Detroit Digital Brief for August 23, 2023 03:32

The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld a decision striking down state water rules designed to limit exposure to household and industrial chemicals known as PFAS, which are commonly referred to as forever chemicals.

The rules, however, will remain in effect until all appeals are exhausted.

In a 2-1 opinion Tuesday affirming a 2022 decision by a lower court, the appeals court didn't address the merits of adopting tougher drinking water standards. Rather, it said the state failed to estimate the cost of any groundwater cleanup that could be associated with the new rules.

"If EGLE cannot provide one, then it cannot propose the rule in a way that complies" with state law, the court said, referring to the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

The rules would apply to seven compounds in a category known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. They have been used for decades in products ranging from nonstick cookware to stain-resistant clothing and food containers, as well as foam used to extinguish jet-fuel fires.

They're known as forever chemicals because some don't degrade naturally and are believed capable of lingering indefinitely in the environment.

"Groundwater-cleanup standards are tied to drinking water rules; therefore, any changes to the drinking water rules also cause a change to the groundwater-cleanup rules," the appeals court said.

State regulators are expected to ask the Michigan Supreme Court to look at the case. The rules were challenged by 3M Co.

"While EGLE respectfully disagrees with the court's decision, we appreciate that it has allowed the health standards to remain in effect while we appeal because the safety of our citizens should not be compromised," spokesman Scott Dean said Wednesday.

The rules would cover about 2,700 drinking water systems in Michigan, requiring them to conduct periodic PFAS testing and inform the public of results.

In June, 3M said it was willing to pay at least $10.3 billion to settle lawsuits over the contamination of many U.S. public drinking water systems. But 22 attorneys general are urging a federal judge in South Carolina to reject the proposal, saying it would let 3M off too easily.


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