PFAS found in Ken Kolker’s blood: So what now?

ken kolker on rockford porch 020118_470994

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — I have PFAS in my blood.

It’s there, at slightly higher levels than the national average for one of the PFAS compounds.

The question is: What does it mean?

“I would say bad news and good news,” Kent County Administrative Health Officer Adam London said. “The bad news is yes, you have PFAS compounds in your blood serum, like 95 percent of the rest of the American population.”

My test was for the two most widely studied compounds of PFAS: PFOS and PFOA. It cost me $675 and took a month to get results.

My PFOS level came in at 7.4 parts per billion, above the national average of 6.3. But my PFOA levels came in less than 1 part per billion, half the national average.

“The good news is that I would have a hard time picking your blood results out of a lineup,” London said.


London can’t say the same, though, for Sandy Wynn-Stelt, whose PFAS blood levels were the highest seen anywhere, ever — 5,000 parts per billion, hundreds of times higher than mine.

She lives next to Wolverine Worldwide’s highly contaminated House Street dump north of Grand Rapids. Her husband died of liver cancer. She has had thyroid problems.

I tested my blood to highlight the debate over these tests.

Attorneys for residents argue they’re needed to help measure potential health risks. They recently paid to test the blood of about 45 people and are still waiting for results.

Some health officials say it’s enough just knowing you drank bad water.

“If your drinking water is contaminated excessively with PFAS, you are going to have it in your system. That’s something that we can predict,” London said.

And a little, health experts say, can do as much as a lot.


The question for me is, how did it get into my blood?

I grew up in Rockford and lived there until I was 8, back in 1960s. During that time, I drank straight from the Rogue River, which until about a decade ago was the source of Rockford’s city water. The water plant was just two blocks downstream from the site of Wolverine’s old tannery, which to this day is soaked with PFAS. That means I probably drank PFAS.

“It’s possible it could be from back then,” London said.

If that’s the case, my levels would have been far higher when I was growing up and slowly dropped over the years. PFAS can stay in your system for a long time.

“Or it’s possible that it could be an exposure you’ve had relatively recently as well,” London said.

That’s because until 2002, PFAS was everywhere — in Teflon, Scotchgard (the source of the contamination in northern Kent County), on fast food wrappers and more.

Experts say there’s no way to tell if it caused my thyroid problems in my 20s or my mom’s thyroid cancer in her 20s.

“Now that you know that you do have some of this in your system, it really doesn’t change anything of either being able to predict what kind of health effects you might have down the road, or therapy,” London said.

But the doctor who led blood sampling for 69,000 people after a PFAS crisis in West Virginia said even my level is unsafe.

“It’s active biologically,” Dr. Paul Brooks said. “It’s making some changes in your cholesterol and probably your immune system.”

He thinks everybody involved Wolverine’s PFAS crisis should have blood tests.

In West Virginia, where PFAS levels were far lower than in Kent County, the study found probable links to kidney and testicular cancers, ulcerative colitis, thyroid problems, hypertension in pregnancy and high cholesterol.

“The only way you can be absolutely sure that you’re safe from this stuff is to not have any of it in you,” Brooks said.

Kent County is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a possible study of people with extremely high levels of PFAS in their water, London said. He said the study could include blood tests.


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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