Belmont woman fighting PFAS diagnosed with cancer

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BELMONT, Mich. (WOOD) — The Belmont woman who became the face of the nationwide fight against PFAS has been diagnosed with a cancer tied to the chemical.

Sandy Wynn-Stelt said she returned home Saturday after doctors last week removed her cancerous thyroid and lymph nodes where cancer had spread. She said she will eventually start radioactive iodine treatments.

“Once I heard it, it was just kind of game on, let’s fix it, what are we going to do?” she said on Wednesday.

Wynn-Stelt has lived more than 30 years across from the old House Street dump, where Wolverine Worldwide dumped PFAS-tainted sludge for years.

The source of the PFAS was the Scotchgard that the Rockford-based shoemaker used for waterproofing.

Tests found 5 million parts per trillion of PFAS in her blood — the highest ever recorded in a human.

“I guess I wasn’t surprised (by the diagnosis),” she said. “I was also really thankful that I had a doctor that took these blood results really seriously and used that to drive treatment. I am really, really lucky in that respect.

She’s been to Washington, D.C. three times, testifying last year before a Senate committee. The EPA recently honored her with its national Citizen Excellence in Community Involvement Award.

“It’s not just about Belmont, it’s not just about Oscoda, it’s not just about Parchment, or Michigan. It’s about the entire country has this issue,” Wynn-Stelt said.

But she hasn’t lost her humor.

When reminded that she had become the face of the fight against PFAS, she said: “Oh, God, I wanted to be the face of Maybelline. It’s just not fair, it’s just not fair.”

PFAS researchers have found probable links to kidney and testicular cancers, ulcerative colitis, thyroid problems, hypertension in pregnancy and high cholesterol.

While there’s no way to directly tie her cancer to PFAS, she believes it’s likely.

“I can’t definitely say this, but it does kind of make you wonder,” she said. “I have no history of cancer in my family. Joel had no history of cancer in his family, and here both of us are, facing it living across from the dump.”

Before her husband, Joel, died four years ago from liver cancer, she had to carry him to the bathroom because he was too weak to walk. She had to read to him because he had lost his vision.

“The worst part was thinking that I’m going to have to do this by myself, that I wasn’t going to have somebody there who could carry me to the bathroom. That’s the part that starts scaring me,” Wynn-Stelt said. “The reality of it is there’s probably a pretty good chance that this is going to be what ends up killing me at some point or another.”

She said she’s turned her fear into resolve.

“Maybe the whole summation of this is this was my fight to fight,” she said.

The PFAS contamination in northern Kent County covers an area that’s 5 miles long and 6 miles wide, impacting nearly 1,000 wells in Plainfield and Algoma townships.

The contamination in northern Kent County led to a $69.5 million settlement with Wolverine and Scotchgard maker 3M, which has been used to extend the municipal water system to hard-hit areas, including House Street.

Wynn-Stelt’s separate lawsuit, along with the lawsuits of other neighbors, are still pending.

**Correction: A previous version of this report misstated the date Wynn-Stelt returned home and listed an incorrect treatment. We regret the errors, which have been fixed.

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