FILE - Lake Michigan, Chicago

Two children play in the shallow water of Lake Michigan at Chicago's Oakwood Beach in 2019. 

The Great Lakes region is facing threats because of pollution from toxic chemicals found in common household items, according to a National Wildlife Federation report.

The chemicals, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are found in a variety of products such as outdoor clothing, bed linens, carpets, footwear, nonstick pots and pans, toothpaste, dental floss and other personal care products. PFAS are also found in firefighting foam.

NWF Staff Attorney Oday Salim said PFAS can accumulate in wildlife, fish and people after cycling through the air, water, soil and sediment.

“They’re chemicals that tend to be persistent in the environment, so they have very strong chemical bonds (and it is) very difficult to break those bonds,” Salim said. “They also bio-accumulate, so once they get into one biological organism, they can get into another.”

Michael Murray, staff scientist at NWF, said PFAS can cause health problems such as an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, immunal, hormonal and metabolic imbalances as well as reproductive issues in both humans and animals.

“They’re problematic in a lot of ways, especially with their persistence,” Murray said. “They’re around for a long time and they can be present in drinking water. They can get into fish in some cases and be at a high enough level, so we can be exposed to it.”

Murray said that it’s possible to be exposed to PFAS through dust.

“Because the chemicals are in so many different products, they’re likely present in a lot of the dust in the average home,” Murray said.

Salim said the NWF is focusing on methods to protect people and animals from PFAS.

“We focused our report on trying to limit the exposure to PFAS by both humans and wildlife, mostly by focusing on groundwater and surface water quality and also drinking water,” Salim said.

The NWF is asking states to get involved to help limit exposure to PFAS. Salim said it’s important for states to get involved because it's going to take a long time for the federal process to play out.

“Even if Congress were to direct the EPA to do more, I'm not sure we can expect the current EPA of this administration to give us results,” Salim said. “I think any state that decides to wait for Congress and the EPA to act is going to be endangering its citizens.”

Salim said PFAS haven’t been regulated much at the state level, although some states, such as Michigan, have taken action.

“Michigan seems to be doing a lot more than other states," Salim said. "They are looking for it a lot more aggressively. It's finding it in a lot of places and the level of commitment from Michigan seems to be higher than other states.”

The NWF recommended states set certain standards, including a limit for the amount of PFAS found in drinking water and surface water.

“When it comes to groundwater, there should be solutions for PFAS, such as for example designating certain PFAS chemicals as hazardous,” Salim said.

Salim added that the NWF wants to protect communities that lack resources.

“All communities are impacted by PFAS, but some communities end up being disproportionately harmed by PFAS,” Salim said. “They don't have all of the resources that they would want to have to deal with it. Too often these are communities that are poor communities – people that are socioeconomically distressed. These are also communities that contain under-represented minorities.”