High level of PFAS in foam on Rogue River

Toxic Tap Water

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — Bruce Block stood waist-deep in the Rogue River, fly-fishing just below the Rockford Dam, as PFAS foam swirled around him.

On Tuesday, state and county health officials issued a health advisory after tests found extremely high levels of the likely carcinogen in the foam on the Rogue.

But Block wasn’t worried.

“I’m OK with that,” he said before casting for more brown trout.

The state Department of Environmental Quality said it tested the river foam and found nearly 300,000 parts per trillion of total PFAS just below the Rockford Dam. That’s almost 4,000 times the 70 ppt safety limit for drinking water.

The Kent County Health Department and the state Department of Health and Human Services warned against accidentally swallowing the foam while playing in the river.

“Based on the high levels of PFAS found in foam samples, the evidence for health effects associated with the ingestion of PFAS above EPA’s health criterion, and the lack of scientific information fully characterizing exposure to PFAS via foam, MDHHS concluded that swallowing this PFAS-containing river foam may pose a human health risk,” a state letter to the county health department read in part.

“Therefore, MDHHS is recommending a public health advisory that precautions be taken to avoid the incidental ingestion of foam during recreational activities (e.g., swimming, kayaking, fishing) on the Rogue River,” the letter states.

But, the state and county said, it’s OK to touch the foam.

“Current science suggest PFAS do not easily enter through the skin and would not pose risk to human health,” a press release from the Kent County Health Department said.

The foam forms about a block downstream from the former Wolverine Worldwide tannery site, where the groundwater is ripe with PFAS. Tests have also found lower levels of PFAS in the river water itself. The state has already issued a health advisory for some fish caught there.

Wolverine used Scotchgard containing PFAS for decades to treat Hush Puppies at its tannery.

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On Tuesday, Wolverine announced it was accelerating plans for a system to intercept and treat groundwater from its former tannery site to keep PFAS from reaching the Rogue. The company did not release details of the system or when it might be installed.

In the meantime, Bruce Block will keep fishing the Rogue.

“For one thing, I’m wearing waders. It’s not touching my skin,” he said.

He’s also not worried because he fishes for sport, not for dinner.

“The hazard is probably more for folks who might be kayaking or something and swallow the water,” Block said.

On Tuesday, Mel Schwark walked her kids around the dam. She has kayaked and canoed the river, but questions whether she’ll do that again.

“I wouldn’t want to touch it,” she said of the foam. “Who would?”

“If it poses a health hazard, that’s definitely concerning,” Schwark continued. “It would make me a little bit leery about sticking my nose in it.”

Todd Davlin of Portland was among a group of kayakers who hit the river on Tuesday, putting in across the river from a gathering of foam.

“I have kayaked down the Rogue before and I’m back for more of it,” he said. “That doesn’t change my opinion at all.”

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