By Alex Ebert
Environmental regulators across America are looking for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—or PFAS—in drinking water, but Michigan is taking its search to new heights.
The state’s Department of Environmental Quality announced Sept. 18 it will fly a drone outfitted with an infrared camera across Lake Margrethe in the northern part of the state’s lower peninsula. The agency hopes to identify cold springs entering the lake that experts can then test for possible PFAS contamination from runoff fire-retardant chemicals at a nearby military base.
For years, government and private companies have used infrared cameras on drones in environmental and industrial applications, such as checking the health of crops, inspecting commercial sites, fighting fires, and rescue missions.
But Michigan officials think this is the first time infrared-equipped drones are specifically looking for water to test for PFAS, which have been linked to problems with liver and immune system function, increased blood cholesterol levels, developmental delays, and increased cancer risk.
“It is an interesting approach,” says Seth Kellogg, a National Groundwater Association board member and senior geologist at New Jersey-based Geosyntec Consultants.
Similar technology has been used to find seeps from landfills and groundwater upwelling in wetlands, but Kellogg says she hadn’t “heard of it being done specifically for PFAS and it certainly isn’t a commonly used technique.”
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