State fails to notify residents of unsafe PFAS in fish

Ken Kolker -

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) -- State tests found unsafe levels of PFAS in fish in a lake near Wolverine Worldwide's old House Street dump north of Grand Rapids four months ago, but officials never notified residents who eat the fish, Target 8 has found.

Residents around Freska Lake in Plainfield Township said they're frustrated not only that Wolverine contaminated their fish, but also that the state didn't tell them about it.

"That is very concerning if they've known this long," said Bill Fix, who lives on the lake and learned of the tainted fish Thursday from Target 8. "We've been ice fishing. They should have told us on day one. Even if they didn't know, if they had concerns they should have told us."

Fix has lived on Freska Lake and eaten fish he caught there for almost 30 years. His dad grew up fishing on the lake.

"This is a fantastic place, love it here," Fix said of the 62-acre private lake off 10 Mile Road NE. He said about 20 families live around the lake, which is swimming with  bluegill, bass and northern pike.

But the lake is just a mile from the House Street dump, where Wolverine buried PFAS-laced sludge for years until 1970. PFAS, a likely carcinogen also linked to other illnesses, has been found in residential wells in the area -- in some cases at levels well above the state's standard for drinking water.

>>Inside Complete coverage of the PFAS investigation

"That stinks pretty good to hear about how bad that level is on our fish," Fix said.

Emails released by the state through the Freedom of Information Act describe how three different agencies grappled with how to notify neighbors.

The state started testing fish from Freska Lake in late September after questions were raised by residents. The state put the testing on the fast track.

The Department of Natural Resources collected the fish, the Department of Environmental Quality sent them to the lab for testing and the Department of Health and Human Services determined if the fish were safe to eat.

By Nov. 1, tests found "problematic" levels of PFAS in Freska Lake's bluegill, according to an email. They were bad enough to lead to a recommended advisory of no more than two bluegill meals a month.

That's far more restrictive than the statewide advisory for bluegill because of mercury -- eight meals a month.

"Why would they hold this vital information?" Fix wondered.

PFAS levels were lower in the bass from Freska Lake, state officials said.

The DEQ and DNR suggested DHHS help notify the public.

"Property owners on the lake are anxious to hear about the results," the DNR said in an email to DHHS officials on Nov. 2, calling it a "human health issue."

In another email: "This is where DHHS shines."

In a Nov. 3 email, DHHS spokesman Bob Wheaton asked spokeswoman Angela Minicuci her opinion on issuing a press release:

"Angela, do you think we should issue a press release early next week stating the PFOS levels that were found even though we're not at the point where we can update fish consumption guidelines?"

But a press release was never issued, even as residents were ice fishing.

"That's almost criminal," Fix said.

Even the longtime Freska Lake resident who caught the fish for testing said he didn't learn about the strict eating limit until he emailed the DNR last month.

"I don't know why they haven't really broadcast or told anybody," Jim Beaver said.

He said he has eaten bluegill from the lake just once since the fall, leaving him with lots of frozen fish.

"Just waiting to hear if there's anything really bad or how bad it would be," Beaver said.

Beaver said he'll keep eating the bluegill he catches, but not as often.

But his neighbor said he'll stop eating the fish.

"I really watch my health, stay active and try to eat a healthy diet and then to find out that," Fix said. "That's shocking."

The state also is testing for PFAS in fish from three other lakes -- Versluis, Clear Bottom and Bostwick -- but it's not clear if those were completed.

DHHS spokeswoman Angela Minicuci said the state re-tested the fish to confirm the results, got those results in December, then notified the resident who initially asked the fish to be tested.

But the agency decided to wait until later this spring to release the Freska Lake results through the DHHS's Eat Safe Fish guide, she said.

She said the state is now reconsidering whether to release test results sooner.

"This is part of our challenge around PFAS and creating new models for communication," Minicuci said in a written statement.


If you are eligible for a whole-house water filtration system from Wolverine Worldwide, you can call 616.866.5627 or email

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Environmental Assistance Center can be reached at 1.800.662.9278.

Websites with additional information on the contamination:

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