What are PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances)?

PFAS is a large group of man-made chemicals (polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances) that are resistant to heat, water and oil. They are used in many industrial applications and consumer products such as carpeting, waterproof clothing, upholstery, food paper wrappings, personal care products, fire-fighting foams, and metal plating.

To understand how PFAS are regulated it is important to keep the facts straight:

  • PFAS refers to an entire category of substances
  • PFOA and PFOS refer to two specific contaminants
  • PFOA and PFOS combined are regulated
  • The PFOA and PFOS drinking water health advisory is 70 parts per trillion (ppt)
  • Total PFAS refers to more substances than just PFOA and PFOS in the PFAS category
  • Total PFAS is not regulated
  • Total PFAS does not have a health advisory

What is a Lifetime Health Advisory for Drinking water?

The lifetime health advisory level for PFOA and PFOS (not Total PFAS) is 70 parts per TRILLION parts. That means 70 parts out of 1,000,000,000,000 parts!


Here is another way to think about this large number:

1 part per trillion is equal to roughly one drop per 16 million gallons of water, or per 24 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The PFOA/PFOS health advisory:

  • Was set low to protect children, pregnant woman, and the elderly
  • It has a 300% margin of safety

What is happening in Parchment related to PFAS in the drinking water?

In 2018, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) tested all public water supplies in Michigan for PFAS. The MDEQ set a lifetime health advisory for drinking water of 70 parts per trillion for two PFAS compounds known as PFOA and PFOS. The MDEQ test results showed high levels of PFOA and PFOS in the City of Parchment's municipal water supply above the health advisory limits.

The municipal water system in Parchment served 3,100 residents including some in Cooper Township. A state of emergency was immediately issued for Kalamazoo County due to the ongoing PFAS health and safety concerns. State and local officials, and members of the community, worked together to provide safe water. The PFOA/PFOS test results for Kalamazoo's water supply proved the water is safe for drinking and all other purposes.

Within 72 hours of the finding PFOA and PFOS in Parchment's water supply, the City of Kalamazoo - Protect Your Water flushed the Parchment water system out. Kalamazoo's municipal water was then pumped into Parchment's system for public use, except for drinking. Within 1 day of finding PFOA/PFOS, bottle watered was made available to Parchment and Cooper residences for drinking. Continued retesting was conducted to ensure safety. The results for Kalamazoo's water supply proved the water is safe for drinking and all other purposes. Parchment's drinking water ban was lifted. A permanent connection to Kalamazoo's municipal water has been completed.

Does the City of Kalamazoo municipal water have PFAS?

Fifteen water pumping stations in the City of Kalamazoo Public Water Supply System were sampled on June 15, 2018. None of the tests revealed levels of PFOA and PFOS above the 70 parts per trillion (ppt) lifetime health advisory level. Of the 15 samples, 12 results were non-detections, and 3 stations had detectable levels below 70 ppt.

NONE of the City of Kalamazoo baseload stations which operate daily to provide water to customers, had detections of PFOA or PFOS. Three "peaking stations", those stations used only in cases of emergency for fire response, system flushing, or in times of high water use, had low PFOA and PFOS levels. The station with the highest PFOA and PFOS detections had 19 ppt which is well below the health advisory of 70 ppt. The 3 stations with PFOA and PFOS detections comprise only 6.7% of the supplied water in the City's system.

These PFAS results show that the Kalamazoo Water Supply is safe for drinking and all other purposes. Additionally, the Kalamazoo Public Services has a full-time staff of lab technicians who regularly test the drinking water to ensure its safety and compliance with state and federal regulations.

What is happening in Richland related to PFAS?

High levels of PFOA and PFOS were discovered in the groundwater at a former plating company in Richland, and in several private drinking water wells in that area. The former plating company property is listed on the MDEQ's Part 201 sites of contamination and is referred to as "North 34th Street". The MDEQ and Kalamazoo County Health are actively working on the issue.

Where can I find out more information about this situation?

Get Involved!

You can help keep Kalamazoo's water clean! Some tactics include using your property wisely, disposing of hazardous products properly, conserving water, and more. Learn about proper disposal and ways to conserve water.