OTSEGO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Allegan County Health Department released the results of a massive soil sampling effort Saturday at the Otsego Middle School auditorium, where dozens of concerned community members closely listened.
The study collected hundreds of soil samples from private farm fields and other properties nearby the Menasha, Rock-Tenn and A-1 landfills. All three sites are believed to be potential sources for cross-county contamination.
Multiple residential wells in both Allegan and Van Buren counties were tested for PFAS in March 2018 when concerns arose regarding water quality and potential increases in cancer and other diseases for residents living near the three landfill sites.
In September 2018, state officials found that 16 wells in Allegan County had detectable amounts of two types of dioxins, which are toxic chemical compounds. The state informed impacted well owners not to drink their water and provided alternate sources of potable water.
Later that same month, complete results from the municipal water supplies revealed the water in Otsego Township, Otsego, Plainwell and Gun Plain Township were all safe to drink, diminishing the risk of a public health hazard.
Environmental officials decided in October 2018 that soil samples from affected areas should be tested. These samples would come from fields, where paper sludge from the landfills was applied.
The results show that 111 samples were collected. Every single sample contained dioxins ranging from .03 parts per trillion to 9.67 parts per trillion.
David Heywood of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy says the amount of dioxins found isn’t enough to trigger any further “immediate action.”
“The results of the soil study shows that we have not found any levels that present an immediate risk in terms of contact,” Heywood said. “Residents should remain aware while we continue to investigate.”
Forty-two of 75 samples detected PFAS ranging from .97 to 2.94 parts per billion of PFOA and .85-69.9 parts per billion of PFOS.
Heywood was also not fazed by these numbers.
“We have been and are continuing to investigate the extent of PFAS contamination,” Heywood said. “We have already looked hard at the concerns at this point those have been laid to rest.”
At the Menasha site, samples showed dioxins and PFAS chemicals were still present.
Additionally, a solution called “black liquor” was found to have been spread across 11 area roadways to help keep the dust down. Soil near each treated road tested positive for dioxins. Only one tested positive for PFAS contamination.
Donna Wisnaski and her family live near one of the sites where soil was tested. She says her father, husband and brother were all diagnosed with cancer.
She hopes the proper steps have been taken to ensure her grandchildren are not affected.
“I fought hard to get some of those sites tested,” Wisnaski said. “Having to fight and fight and fight and fight and it doesn’t seem like you maybe move only an inch… every meeting, from what they have found… that to me is too little too late. I hope I’m wrong.”
Local and state health agencies maintain the tested areas are safe, Heywood says the investigation will continue.
“We are well below action levels,” Heywood said. “We remain committed to continuing with our investigation and trying to understand the dynamics — from the standpoint of really understanding how these chemicals move through the environment like this.”
More information about the meeting can be found online.