Next step in PFAS response: Community board

Toxic Tap Water

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Federal and state agencies are committed to finding solutions to the PFAS contamination in private wells in the Rockford area, representatives assured residents Tuesday.

In a town hall meeting at Rockford High School, officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality shared updates on their 2018 PFAS research with hundreds of attendees. The officials said that after looking over soil and water samples for months, they found concerning levels of the likely carcinogen on the property of Rockford-based shoemaker Wolverine Worldwide and in surrounding areas, including on private properties.

Residents said it’s comforting to hear the agencies have been busy and that they want to better involve residents.

“We live right in the middle of it. We’re not going anywhere, so we’re in this for the long haul,” Plainfield Township resident Jennifer Carney said.

Carney said she has been talking with the EPA and DEQ officials about a community advisory group expected to form this spring.

“I think this is going to take years (to clean up). This is definitely not going anywhere anytime soon, so that’s why when we develop this CAG, we will definitely need to have people who are affected one way or another because they will be invested in this,” Carney said.

The group will present residents’ concerns to the federal and state agencies and communicate updates back to neighborhoods where PFAS was discovered in 2017.

DEQ officials said that soil and drinking water tests found PFAS levels at thousands of times higher than the state and national safety thresholds in some areas. The EPA also found hazardous levels of certain metals.

“PFAS is always going to be a concern for this area,” said Abigail Hendershott of the Grand Rapids office of the DEQ.

More tests will follow.

“There’s a lot of data to go through. There’s a lot of evaluation to be done and more data to collect. so we’re not done yet,” Hendershott said.

The issue of PFAS — a chemical class that been used in everything from Scotchgard (which Wolverine used to waterproof shoes) to Teflon to airport firefighting foam — is international. Members of a Japanese public television channel were at Tuesday’s meeting to cover how other areas are tackling PFAS contamination, saying Michigan is on the leading edge.

“I do think that is a bigger story than any of us had realized when we began to cover it,” said Megan Devir, a Brooklyn, New York-based researcher and producer for NHK, adding it was “happening everywhere.”

There were lots of geological terms and data thrown out at the meeting, but most residents’ questions remain forthright:

“At top of mind for everybody is when is this going to get taken care of, what are the next steps as far as cleanup,” Carney said.

Hendershott said officials identified PFAS sludge on more than half of the Wolverine’s property in Belmont, which was at the center of the first drinking water contamination alerts.

“That was pretty surprising. I don’t think we expected to see quite that much waste material still at the House Street site,” she said.

Wolverine Worldwide officials were at the open house, but declined an interview with 24 Hour News 8.

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