TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered state officials Wednesday to buy fewer products containing toxic compounds used widely despite being associated with serious illnesses.
The Democratic governor instructed the Department of Technology, Management and Budget to create a system for seeking alternatives to goods made with chemicals known as PFAS.
Officials must ask potential suppliers about PFAS content and give preference to those offering products and packaging free of “intentionally added” PFAS, Whitmer's order said. The only exceptions are for essential items when no comparable alternatives are available.
“PFAS are dangerous, man-made chemicals that pose a threat to our health,” she said, pledging to "ensure Michigan continues leading the nation when it comes to protecting people from toxic contaminants.”
Whitmer met Wednesday with residents of Oscoda, a town near Lake Huron where groundwater has been contaminated by PFAS from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base.
PFAS is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. First developed in the 1940s, they include compounds used in nonstick frying pans, water-repellent sports gear, stain-resistant rugs and countless other consumer products, as well as firefighting foams.
They are called “forever chemicals” because they degrade in the environment slowly, if at all, and remain in human bloodstreams indefinitely. The compounds have been associated with serious health conditions, including cancer and reduced birth weight.
Michigan agencies make about $2.5 billion in purchases annually. PFAS-containing items they commonly buy include office furniture, carpets and sanitary supplies.
The state has set limits on seven PFAS types in drinking water and identified 189 sites where one or more of the compounds exceed the ceilings.
John Dulmes, executive director of the Michigan Chemistry Council, said around 600 PFAS substances are still being made or used, each with unique characteristics. They provide “significant support" for the U.S. supply chain and alternatives aren't always available, he said.
“We support the strong, science-based regulation of chemicals by appropriate federal bodies,” said Dulmes, whose group represents chemical manufacturers and distributors. “But all PFAS are not the same, and they should not all be treated the same way or subject to blanket restrictions.”
The governor's order should prompt Michigan businesses to remove PFAS from products they sell, said Tony Spaniola, co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network.
“This is an important first step in the journey to rid Michigan of this scourge,” said Cyndi Roper of the Natural Resources Defense Council. State and federal regulators should “get rid of these chemicals in commerce and to clean up the innumerable sites across the nation that have been contaminated,” she said.