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Kent County working with CDC, PFAS health survey delayed

Kent County is still getting a health study off the ground about the effects of PFAS on people living in Plainfield Township

An epidemiologist from the Kent County Health Department said that a major health survey for people in Plainfield Township has been delayed amore than six months after industrial chemicals were found in area wells.

"It's difficult to know how long it will be delayed," said Brian Hartl an epidemiologist with the Kent County Health Department. "The initial thought was that we would get the survey out to the public within the first few months of 2018."

The Health Department first discussed the survey in September, along with cancer-cluster research headed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The plan was to survey more than 1,000 homes tested in 2017 for PFAS chemicals linked to tannery sludge dumped by Wolverine Worldwide decades ago, Hartl said.

"You kind of quantify the exposure as best as you can," he said. "What was your water source? Was it ground water or city water? [We would also ask] open-ended questions about any health effects they had or any members of their family had."

The health department is consulting with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry on the survey, which will delay the release (ASTDR).

"We're not the experts on PFAS exposure assessments, the ASTDR is," Hartl said. "We made the decision to bring in those experts and to make the best use of our time and the best use of the people's time who are going to be participating in the survey."

Related: Private citizen group creates PFAS health survey for northern Kent County

Activists in Plainfield Township got out in front of the county and created a private survey that 650 people have already filled out. The top results match illnesses linked to PFAS exposure, including kidney and testicular cancer, poor liver and thyroid functioning, autoimmune diseases and infertility.

"We're glad that we're kind of ahead of the gun," said Cody Angell, who co-created the private survey. "We're seeing the effects of PFAS exposure here in Plainfield Township."

Kent County Health Department said it would look at Angell's data and how it can potentially inform the department's survey.

Varnum Law in Grand Rapids, which represents 200 Kent County residents regarding the water contamination, asked the health department to cover blood tests for PFAS. The firm is now advancing the costs of blood tests for some of its clients.

"So I can't say what's going to happen in the future," Hartl said. "At this point we're discussing it, but there's been no conclusion about it."

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