PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Seth and Tobyn McNaughton said they are struck by this thought: Chemicals dumped decades ago by Wolverine Worldwide are now in the blood of their 20-month-old son Jack.
They’re at high levels.
“He’s so small,” Seth McNaughton said Tuesday as Jack ate pizza and drank Culligan water in his high chair in their Belmont home.
“We love him so much and to have him have that amount of chemical in him is just horrible,” the boy’s dad said.
Tests, they said, found 484,000 parts per trillion of PFAS, a likely carcinogen, in Jack’s blood.
That’s almost as high as the levels found in groundwater at Wolverine’s former tannery site in Rockford.
A test found far more PFAS in the blood of a woman who lives not far away. Sandy Wynn-Stelt told Target 8 a test found 5 million parts per trillion of PFAS in her blood.
A doctor who led a blood test study after a widespread PFAS crisis in West Virginia said the chemical is active in the body with anything over 5,000 parts per trillion. That’s far less than the amounts in Wynn-Stelt and the toddler.
“A small amount triggers about the same biological effect as a large amount,” said Dr. Paul Brooks, whose study tested the blood of 69,000 people in West Virginia.
Brooks said the level found in the Belmont toddler’s blood is higher than any he found in children in his area.
“It’s way high,” he said.
But he called the levels found in Sandy Wynn-Stelt “breathtaking.”
“She’ll never get it out of her system for as long as she lives,” he said.
PFOA and PFOS are members of the PFAS family of chemicals, which was used in Scotchgard produced by 3M and used by Wolverine to treat its shoes.
In West Virginia, the blood tests and health surveys found probable links between PFOA and six medical conditions: testicular and kidney cancers, ulcerative colitis, thyroid problems, high cholesterol and hypertension in pregnancy.
PFAS is known to accumulate in humans as they drink contaminated water or use other products with the chemical. It takes years for it to leave the body.
Some health officials have questioned whether blood tests are necessary for PFAS.
Back in Belmont, the McNaughtons live across US- 131 from Wolverine’s former House Street dump, where the Rockford shoemaker buried PFAS-tainted sludge until 1970.
It has since contaminated wells, including the McNaughtons’.
The blood tests for Wynn-Stelt and Jack were paid for by Varnum Law, the firm representing many northern Kent County homeowners dealing with PFAS in their wells. As of Tuesday, 45 lawsuits had been filed against Wolverine in Kent County’s 17th Circuit Court. A federal class-action suit has also been filed.
>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the toxic tap water investigation
Jack’s mom collapsed when she heard her son’s PFAS blood numbers.
“I said, ‘In his tiny little body?’ And I just grabbed him (her husband) and I started crying,” Tobyn McNaughton said.
She and her husband now wonder if the water somehow has caused Jack’s frequent colds and ear infections.
“His immune system, is it being affected?” Jack’s dad said. “And just the thoughts and fears of future illnesses and cancer is on our mind.”
The McNaughtons said new carbon filters paid for by Wolverine have nearly eliminated PFAS from their well, but they still won’t drink their water.
“Our dream home, you know, now to start our family and have family planning and kids and now we’re freaked out about having another kid,” Seth McNaughton said. “It just sucks.”
It’s perhaps no surprise that Wynn-Stelt’s blood test found so much more PFAS. She lives directly across from the House Street dump. Her well has more PFAS in it than any other in West Michigan — 542 times the EPA advisory level for drinking water. She has lived there 24 years.
“It meant a lot to me, now that I’m hearing I’m breathtaking and not in a good way,” she said of her test results. “It makes you start re-evaluating everything. Is this going to kill me? that’s what I want to know.”
The Wolverine crisis has grown to cover more homes than any of the nearly 30 known PFAS sites in Michigan, the state has said. So far in Kent County, wells at 78 homes have tested over the EPA’s advisory level of 70 parts per trillion for PFAS.
The state of Michigan set its PFAS standard for drinking water to align with the EPA advisory limit Tuesday. It did not previously have a standard.
RESOURCES FOR BELMONT RESIDENTS:
If you are eligible for a whole-house water filtration system from Wolverine Worldwide, you can call 616.866.5627 or email HouseStreet@wwwinc.com.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Environmental Assistance Center can be reached at 1.800.662.9278.
Websites with additional information on the contamination:
- Plainfield Township
- Kent County Health Department
- Water testing interactive map
- Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
- Michigan PFAS Action Response Team
- Varnum PFAS Contamination updates Facebook group
- Wolverine Worldwide