Water resouce expert: chemicals spread faster with more people on private wells

Water Expert

ALLENDALE, MICH., - The toxic chemicals linked to the Wolverine Worldwide dumpsite may have spread at a faster rate since the 1960s with so many Plainfield Township homes using private wells, a water resource expert said Wednesday.

The PFOS chemicals, which Wolverine used in its Scotchgard product, leached into the soil and the groundwater.

"Soil water does not move very rapidly," said Dr. Alan Steinman, director of the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State. "Depending upon the matrix...and the material, it could move maybe a foot a year. It could move an inch a year."

According to the Annis Institute, 45 percent of Michigan is served by groundwater, and 2.6 million people, most of the state's rural population, use private wells.

"They've got all these wells that are basically dug in the ground around them," Steinman said. "If you have somebody pumping here, it's going to move at a much faster rate. So it's possible that those zones of contamination are moving at orders of magnitude much larger than what the natural migration might be."

Officials won't know the true scope of the health or environmental problem if undocumented Wolverine dumpsites keep showing up, he said. 

The EPA released a health advisory for the chemicals at 70 parts per trillion in May 2016. But the author of a 2016 Harvard study said the maximum level should be much lower with the potential health consequences. 

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