Day care owners want state to test for PFAS

Toxic Tap Water

ROBINSON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The owners of two Ottawa County day care centers that rely on well water are questioning why the state isn’t routinely testing such facilities for PFAS after the likely carcinogen was found at nearby Robinson Elementary.

“I worked hard to make this,” Breeze Hager said of her day care, which is less than a mile from the school on 120th Avenue in Robinson Township. “I worked hard to build this business and take care of these kids. They matter to me. I love them all. I wouldn’t want anything horrible to happen.”

Hager no longer lets the kids she cares for drink her well water.

“I want to know that what I’m feeding children is safe, that they’re not going to grow up and have cancer,” Hager said.

The state is testing every public water system and every school for PFAS, a likely carcinogen. At Robinson Elementary, the response was swift Monday after tests revealed 144 parts per trillion of PFAS in the well, about double the level considered safe for drinking. The school immediately turned off the water and bought bottled water. By the end of the day, the state had delivered 33,000 bottles of water.

“We’re lucky that we know about this now, appreciate the fact that we have this information in 2018 rather than in 2022,” Principal Jeff Marcus said.

The state has retested the school’s water to double-check the findings.

Hager says the state should also be testing every day care with well water, like hers.

“If it can cause illness in children, then yes,” Hager said.

The Ottawa County Department of Public Health tested her well in January as part of her state day care license. It tested for things like bacteria, iron and E. coli, but not PFAS.

“‘I’m a little bit irritated,” Hager said. “If you’re aware of it, and make me test anyway, why not have that test?”

Scott Morehouse, the owner of Loving Hearts Little Hands day care across the street from the school, declined an on-camera interview Tuesday but said he also believes the state should routinely test for PFAS at day cares.

The state tested his day care’s well on Monday. While he waits for results, the 58 kids he watches are drinking bottled water.

WHAT’S THE SOURCE OF THE PFAS?

The results at Robinson Elementary are leaving many wondering where the PFAS came from.

About 90 percent of Robinson Township’s 6,500 residents rely on well water, township officials said.

Across Michigan, PFAS has popped up in some predictable places: next to a landfill, a paper mill, airports and military installations. But Robinson Elementary is surrounded by trees and farmland. There are no nearby factories or dumps.

“It does come as a big surprise,” said Marcus, the school principal, who is relying on the state Department of Environmental Quality to investigate the source and whether it has spread.

Some neighbors wonder if the PFAS came from firefighting foam, blamed for contamination around airports and Air Force bases.

“I don’t know any place that would have it here except for the fire department using their foam,” longtime resident Dan Bourque said.

The Robinson Township Fire Department is just down 120th Avenue from the elementary school. Fire Chief Paul VanVelzen, who has been with the department 40 years, said his department has never had or used firefighting foam containing PFAS.

The DEQ expects to get results as soon as Wednesday from follow up tests at the school, along with tests at the day care across the street and the fire department.

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