GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Grand haven is working with state officials to remediate Harbor Island where PFAS was found last summer. 

The Grand Haven Board of Light and Power first made the discovery in ground water in June 2021 while conducting routine testing. 

The city says in the 1950s and 1960s Harbor Island was used as a city dump. Then in the early 1960s, the J.B. Sims Generating Station was built on the island.

The city says coal ash waste was disposed of in unlined lagoons and nearby wetlands. Later in the 1980s, clay lined lagoons were used to manage the coal ash. The plant was decommissioned in 2019 and demolished in early 2021. 

City Manager Patrick McGinnis says they don’t know the exact origin of the PFAS but it hasn’t made into drinking water thus far.

“I can’t think of a higher stakes kind of dynamic in Michigan right now where we’ve got the site of an old power plant sitting on top of an old municipal dump. It’s really of tremendous concern locally and regionally,” said McGinnis. 

McGinnis says the city has since doubled their testing regimen to monitor the forever chemical. They took samples in February from 24 different sites. They say 18 of the samples collected exceeded groundwater clean-up state criteria for PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS. McGinnis says the results were under action levels but above detection levels.

“The fact that PFAS was found at all, in fairly low concentrations, is of some note. It’s not at a level like what we saw in Rockford and Plainfield Township where it was in the billions of parts per trillion. We’re more in the hundreds of parts per trillion but just the fact that it’s there,” he said.

The city had plans to turn the island into a recreational area for the public but will first have to remediate to prevent the chemical from leeching out.

The city met with Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and other state officials virtually last month to begin looking at the best ways to begin the cleanup process. The city says they’ve hired a consultant to help them through the process and will be regularly putting out information to residents. 

“The tone of this meeting was positive, cooperative and forward-looking; this is the time to make real progress with our partners at EGLE,” said Grand Haven Mayor Catherine M. McNally in a release following the meeting. 

While the plans for remediation on Harbor Island are still in the preliminary stages, one idea city and state officials came up with involves encircling the area and capping it to prevent PFAS from leeching into drinking water.

City officials say another idea involves encircling the area, digging it out, refilling and then capping it. The city says no matter which route they take, remediation will likely be costly, and they will need financial help from state sources.

“We’re being very cautious but at the same time acting as quickly as we can,” said McGinnis.

The city is now working to develop a plan that addresses both Coal Combustion Residuals compliance tasks and non-CCR contaminant investigation. The city says they’re hoping to have a more concrete idea of what their plan will be moving forward in the next 30 days.