PARCHMENT, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo County health officials are urging residents on the Parchment city water system to stop using their water immediately, after finding the likely carcinogen PFAS in the water supply at levels up to 20 times higher than federal safety standards.
The Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Department issued the advisory Thursday night, after Michigan Department of Environmental Quality drinking water specialist Eric Oswald says water samples came back at 1,300 parts per trillion and 1,400 ppt — well above the Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold of 70 ppt.
Oswald said of the several tests the state has conducted so far, this is the first high hit they’ve had.
“It’s hard to say what you’re going to find. We have types of industries that cause this pollution, and that’s why we chose these communities to go first. Obviously, that hunch has paid off,” Oswald said.
In a news conference, Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller said the advisory impacts approximately 3,000 people, on the city of Parchment’s water system, including residents of Cooper Township.
>>App users: Watch the Parchment water news conference here.
>>PDF: Map of affected area
Those on the city’s water system should immediately stop using their water for drinking, cooking, making baby formula or food, and for rinsing fruits or vegetables.
Health officials warn boiling water and common water filters will not remove PFAS. Skin contact with contaminated water is not considered a health concern.
Beginning Friday, residents can pick up bottled water from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Parchment High School, located at 1916 E. G Avenue. Those who cannot get bottled water can arrange to have it delivered to their home by calling 269.567.7595 or 269.567.2517.
Canvassers will visit residents in the affected areas Friday to explain the situation and the resources available.
Fuller said they were alerted to the situation late Thursday afternoon, after state water tests showed the high levels of PFAS. The state is checking water quality in systems across the state.
“This is a first. We are leading the country in testing for PFAS. This is a result of that testing,” said Oswald.
Oswald said the Parchment municipal water is drawn from three wells. Private wells in the area also pull from the same aquifer, so they will need to be tested.
Oswald said he’s not aware of any other communities whose water systems draw from the same aquifer.
Kalamazoo County health officials say within the next two days, they will connect the city’s water system to Kalamazoo’s water supply to flush out the pipeline. Residents will be notified once tests show the PFAS levels are below the health advisory level, and the water is once again safe to drink.
Gov. Rick Snyder has directed the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan State Police and the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team to help the affected communities. He says he’s also activated the Michigan Emergency Operations Center to assist as needed.
“Our first priority is the health of residents in the Parchment and Cooper Township area and to ensure they have access to safe drinking water, a plan for which is already being executed by local agencies with state assistance,” Snyder stated Thursday night. “Our next step is to work as a team to address the source of this contamination and restore the municipal water system. As soon as the tests results were reported, the state and local agencies tasked with protecting public health and our environment began coordinating a response and should be commended for how quickly and how well they worked together on this.”
PFAS has already been detected in wells in Plainfield and Algoma townships, near sites where Wolverine Worldwide dumped its waste decades ago. PFAS was in the Scotchgard Wolverine used to waterproof the shoes it made in nearby Rockford. Firefighting foam used for training at airports and military bases was also laced with PFAS.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says exposure to PFAS may be linked to certain health conditions, including:
- Liver damage
- Elevated total cholesterol
- Elevated LDL cholesterol
- Increased risk of thyroid disease
- Decreased antibody response to vaccines
- Increased risk of asthma
- Fertility problems
- Slight decreases in birth weight
The EPA set a health advisory benchmark of 70 parts per trillion for PFAS, however a recent study suggested the acceptable level of PFAS should be seven to 10 times lower than that.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that the PFAS in the water supply was at levels up to 70 times higher than federal safety standards. That number is 20 times higher. Our story has been corrected. We apologize for the error.