Government shutdown delays PFAS town hall meeting

Toxic Tap Water

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — The effects of the federal government shutdown are now being felt by Rockford-area residents whose drinking water has been contaminated by a likely carcinogen.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced Thursday that a town hall meeting about the PFAS investigation at Wolverine Worldwide’s former House Street dump has been postponed because of the shutdown. Both the DEQ and Environmental Protection Agency had planned to oversee the meeting at Rockford High School.

“We (area residents) all had questions that we needed answered,” said Sandy Wynn-Stelt, who lives near the epicenter of Belmont’s PFAS contamination sites.

She said she’s disappointed the meeting was canceled.

She said she had been communicating with EPA representatives for weeks about the upcoming meeting. She said they talked about ways to make it go smoothly and forming a PFAS Citizen Advisory Board.

“Our hope was that (the board) was going to start being something that was discussed and rolled out at this meeting on the 23rd and now, of course with the government shutdown, that’s going to be delayed even further,” she said.

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The DEQ said the meeting, which was slated for Jan. 23, will be rescheduled once the shutdown ends and EPA staff return to work.

Shortly after the announcement, Sen. Gary Peters, took aim at President Donald Trump on Twitter.

“I’ve called for the EPA to take aggressive action in handling PFAS, but we need the President to open the government for that to happen. More and more Michiganders are put in harm’s way as this shutdown drags on. It must end immediately,” the Democrat from Bloomfield Township tweeted.

Wynn-Stelt said that she appreciates the support, but hopes lawmakers put action behind their words.

“Any delay is a problem for me,” said Scott Harvey of the Michigan Demands Action Against Contamination group.

Harvey’s large family is dispersed throughout the northern Kent County area where PFAS contamination has been found and he had been eager to hear the latest findings and plans from state and federal agencies.

“That’s what we want. We need the facts. We need to know,” he said.

Harvey said he was also looking forward to details on a citizen-led advisory board. 

The DEQ says while the shutdown is delaying the EPA’s report about fieldwork results from last year, it “doesn’t expect any immediate disruptions to this important project.”

The DEQ also said it’s still meeting weekly with Wolverine and contractors to ensure “critical environmental work” proceeds. The DEQ says the postponement “will have no effect on day-to-day DEQ operations or Wolverine’s commitments to residents with impacted wells.”

The EPA and DEQ say Wolverine used to dispose of lime-sludge, lime slurry and lime liquor at the House Street dump. The agencies say PFAS concentrations at the core of the plume in Belmont are as high as 71,000 parts per trillion, much higher than the federal safety threshold of 70 ppt.

The agency says while no waste was dumped on the state regulated site after 1970, the environmental impact and groundwater monitoring will likely continue for years.

Wynn-Stelt said keeping families affected by PFAS updated is essential.

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