BELMONT, Mich. — The bad news keeps piling up, Jennifer Carney says.
Months after learning her well water contains a suspected carcinogen used to waterproof shoes, the Belmont woman says her water is now testing positive for lead, the same toxic metal that put Flint’s municipal water in the spotlight.
"It sucks," said Carney, a married mother of two. "There's really no other way to say it. And just to open another letter with another result and find out more bad news. It's like, 'Really, more?'"
Water at her home on Chandler Drive NE tested well above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's safe drinking limit for PFAS, a family of chemicals used by Wolverine Worldwide at its Rockford tannery. Tannery waste was trucked to a company dump on House Street NE, which closed nearly 50 years ago.
Carney’s blood has more PFAS than what is found in the general population, according to an American Red Cross study, but health risks from long-term exposure aren’t fully known.
The same cannot be said for lead -- and that has her worried.
"It's so strange to be contaminated with two things, one that nobody knows about, and now finding out that you're contaminated with something that we've all heard of," Carney said. "We've all heard of the Flint crisis, and now we have the exact same thing happening in our own home."
Carney paid to have her well tested for lead. The results were mailed to her by the Kent County Health Department. The water tested at 73 parts per billion (ppb), almost five times the EPA limit of 15 ppb.
According to the EPA, lead exposure can affect almost every human organ, with the main target being the nervous system.
While there’s a lot of unknowns about the health risks of PFAS exposure, risks from lead exposure are known and documented, said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
"I can tell you from a blood-lead level in your blood, a water-lead level, what the exposures and the risks are," Wells said in a November interview.
Because of the lead results from her water, Carney is now having her blood tested. She had her blood drawn on Tuesday and is awaiting the results. She also plans to have her children’s blood tested for PFAS and lead.
"This really does start to explain some of the neurological issues I've been trying to figure out for the last couple years," she said. "The only way the [family] is managing this is by the four of us sticking together."
Carney's well is one of two that showed unsafe levels of lead. They are among 640 wells tested for PFAS in connection with Wolverine's House Street dump in Kent County's Plainfield Township.
The other well is at the home of Sandy Wynn-Stelt, which sits directly across the street from the dump. The lead content of her water came in at 22.5 ppb.
Her well, until last week, had the highest recorded PFAS levels in northern Kent County at 37,800 parts per trillion (ppt). That's about 540 times the EPA's limit for PFAS of 70 ppt.
In a statement released Wednesday, Wolverine Worldwide said it does not believe the House Street site is the source of recently-detected lead. "Wolverine has eight monitoring wells located on the House Street site that have been tested for lead. Lead has not been detected in any of the samples,'' Wolverine said in the statement.
Grand Rapids law firm Varnum LLC paid to have Wynn-Stelt’s water tested for lead. The firm is representing more than 250 residents in the Rockford and Belmont areas related to tannery waste contamination.
In a Feb. 2 letter to the state Department of Environmental Quality and others, Varnum asked that wells in the PFAS contamination zones be tested for metals.
“In light of the finding that a second home has lead in its drinking water above federal criteria, we once again call on state and federal agencies to assist residents and protect public health,’’ Varnum attorney Aaron M. Phelps wrote.
The lead contamination has not been linked to Wolverine Worldwide. However, an EPA order from January makes note of lead contamination in soil at the House Street dump and at Wolverine's former tannery in Rockford.
The order cites 2012 data from the DEQ that found soil samples with lead detections that exceed safe levels for ground and surface water. It also references lead in an area just west of the House Street dump at 3,000 parts per billion.
Groundwater at the tannery property is vulnerable to contamination "due to highly-permeable sand and gravel soils," according to the EPA.
The DEQ says 35 homes were tested last summer for 10 metals and volatile organic compounds none of the results "exceeded residential clean up criteria.''
A news release from the state DEQ says the agency "continues to work closely with the EPA'' on its removal action order.
Read the full statement here:
Michigan DEQ proactively tested 35 homes for 10 metals and volatile organic compounds last summer (2017). It found that none of the results exceeded residential clean up criteria. Since this sampling, the EPA has issued its removal action order (106 CERCLA) which addresses all substances including metals and provides a timeline for addressing implementation of CERCLA regulated contaminants at the House Street facility. Michigan DEQ continues to work closely with the EPA on the application of this order.
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