Health officials in western Michigan are investigating a potential link between cancer and people who've been exposed to toxic chemicals from tannery waste dump sites.

Kent County Health Department epidemiologist Brian Hartl said the state is helping cross-reference incidences of rare cancer around known and suspected properties where Wolverine World Wide previously dumped hazardous waste.

"We are going to look at cases of cancer in the affected areas and compare those cases to what might be expected or to a control group in other parts of the county," he explains. "That will give us an indication if we are seeing elevated levels of cancer in the implicated areas."

►Previous: Chemicals found in drinking water near old tannery dump site

Those locations include a dump in Belmont, where nearby private drinking water wells are contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances called PFAS. Wolverine used the chemicals at its former tannery in Rockford to waterproof leather for Hush Puppies shoe manufacturing.

State toxicologists say exposure to PFAS compounds have been linked through human studies to kidney and testicular cancer, as well as to ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid problems and cholesterol issues.

"When you find out you have been potentially exposed to a chemical for a long period of time, I think it is a natural reaction to think that that’s the issue that’s been causing your health concerns," says Hartl. "They are concerned about their health so we are going to try our best to get an understanding of what people are dealing with."

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