Unregulated PFAS Harming Native American Community in Michigan

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Cancer is rampant among members of the Odawa Nation, with strong evidence that PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” which have polluted groundwater throughout the state of Michigan, are a major contributing factor, Frances Madeson reported for The Real News Network in May 2023. The effects of PFAS contamination on local water sources are “devastating Indigenous and rural communities,” Madeson wrote.

PFAS chemicals have contaminated the groundwater throughout Michigan, affecting some 230 sites, including military bases, landfills, and airports. PFAS are polyfluorinated plastics used in products such as fire retardants, lubricants, and coatings like Scotchgard and Teflon. Scientists have linked PFAS exposure to an array of illnesses, including cancers, immune system suppression, elevated cholesterol, and decreased infant and fetal growth.

Testing for PFAS contamination is costly and few people have health insurance that covers the test. So-called “polluter pay laws,” which require companies responsible for the pollution to cover its costs, have not yet been passed in Michigan.

One local cancer patient who was tested showed 750 times the national average for PFAS in their blood. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says there should not be more than 70 parts per trillion of PFAS in groundwater, but some local wells measured 24,000 parts per trillion, and another up to 80,000 per trillion—far in excess of EPA guidelines.

The impacts of PFAS on the Odawa Nation have not been covered in corporate news as of June 28, 2023. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article about a settlement reached in a PFAS suit filed by the city of Rome, Georgia, but its coverage did not mention conditions in Michigan or the Native American community.

Source: Frances Madeson, “PFAS Contamination and the Scourge of Cancer in Odawa Nation,” Real News Network, May 9, 2023.

Student Researcher: Riley Cummins (Diablo Valley College)

Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)