GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - In the mid-to-late part of 2018, Michigan labs will have the capability to test water for the PFAS chemicals that are contaminating wells in Kent County. This is the latest from officials from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
"We expect in the new year to have our water testing capabilities up and running," said Kory Groetsch, environmental public health leader for the MDHHS. "There is a learning curve. So [lab technicians] need to get good at it. Production's going to be slow at first, and then it will ramp up."
The DEQ is currently investigating around 80 possible dump sites, 23 of which may be associated with Wolverine Worldwide. In coordination with the DEQ, the Rockford-based shoemaker sampled 640 wells in Kent County's Plainfield Township. Twenty-eight wells tested above the Environmental Protection Agency's safe drinking water PFAS advisory level of 70 parts per trillion, while 145 came back with detections below the advisory.
"[PFAS] is an emerging contaminant," said David O'Donnell, a field operations supervisor for the DEQ. "It’s new, but we’ve been through this process before. We know that to get every molecule out of the aquifer is not going to happen. So what we need to do is figure out where the contamination is and try to manage the risk to public health and to the environment."
Wolverine Worldwide, which dumped sludge containing some of the PFAS chemicals at its House Street NE dumpsite in Belmont during the 1960s, sampled water at 640 private wells in Plainfield Township. All of those samples were tested out of state.
Water testing for PFAS chemicals will be done in MDHHS and MDEQ labs. A request for funding is in the process in the Michigan Legislature, Groetsch said.
"Because of that investment, if it's coming through the state labs, we should be able to do it at a fraction of the cost [and time]," he said.
In addition to the testing effort, the state is accumulating resources with creation of the Michigan PFAS Action Response team, which Gov. Snyder ordered on Nov. 13.
"A real key issue here is coordination, coordination of response across state agencies," said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive at MDHHS. "It's really in support of the local communities. It's not really about us -- it's us to get the resources to bear for the local communities."
When the testing is done through the state labs, cost and the time it takes to get results should be cut significantly, Wells said.
The DEQ and MDHHS said any detection of PFAS in a private well near a possible contamination source in Kent County is cause for concern. On a case-by-case basis, they recommend water filters and bottled water for homes with detections.
The health effects of PFAS are largely unknown. But exposure to high levels of the chemicals have shown links to higher cholesterol, effects on liver functions, fertility issues and certain cancers such as kidney and testicular cancer, Wells said.
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