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Kent Co. residents plead for more attention on PFAS contamination

During a walking tour of the Rogue River Wednesday, residents called for more awareness, cleaning river.

ROCKFORD, Mich. — Residents and activists in Northern Kent County are calling for more action to be done to clean up the Rogue River and surrounding areas of PFAS.

The activists invited local lawmakers on a listening tour in Rockford Wednesday. State Representative David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids), and Rockford Mayor Ed Ross were among the group. 

"We're nowhere near the end," said Ross, talking about efforts to make sure all PFAS is gone from groundwater. 

The chemicals were fond in drinking water, as a result of an industrial leather treating process Wolverine Worldwide use at its Rockford tannery. It closed in 2009. The chemicals were made by company 3M to waterproof Wolverine's shoes. 

"I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago in my thyroid," said Sandy Wyn-Stelt, of Wolverine Citizens Action Group, "So, I recognize the impact."

Wyn-Stelt knows all too well the health impacts of PFAS in water. In 2016, PFAS were found in some drinking water wells, leading to high levels of the chemical in people's blood level. 

"My husband died of liver cancer in 2016," said Wynn-Stelt, "I learned about the contamination in 2017. We had lived there for 25 years before that. We had drank some of the most contaminated water found."

Wynn-Stelt said educating lawmakers is the only way to see change. 

"The first thing that is clear, is we have to do more testing," said LaGrand, "Because there are blood tests you can do that can identify people who are at risk. The other thing we need to do right away, is we can stop ongoing damage by doing filtration. Knowledge is power."

In 2019, both Wolverine Worldwide and 3M agreed to pay nearly $70 million to bring municipal water to residents. 

Earlier in 2022, both companies settled a class action lawsuit for $54 million brought by Kent County residents. It will be distributed among nearly 1,700 plaintiffs. 

"It's one of those situations where it continues to get much worse," said Lynn McIntosh, resident, "In terms of the severity of its impact on people on their health, and much more widespread in terms of like, every day, it seems we get a new PFAS site in Michigan."

RELATED VIDEO: Wolverine, 3M agree to pay $54M to Kent County residents in PFAS settlement

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