CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The state’s initial health advisory about PFAS foam on two rivers in Kent County warned against ingesting it, but health officials at the time said it was safe to touch. Now, nearly a year later, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is saying foam from the likely carcinogen is also unsafe to touch.
“We’re trying to give a simpler message, that it’s easier to avoid the foam,” said Deb MacKenzie-Taylor, an MDHHS environmental health toxicologist.
The new warning comes as foam, stirred up by spring rains, piled high on Thursday along the Thornapple River in Cascade Township and along parts of the Rogue River in Rockford. Chunks of it piled up in front of a small park below the Rockford Dam.
“I see kids swimming down the by park over there” in the summer time, Rockford-area resident Amy Garnier said.
It’s just downstream from the site of the former Wolverine Worldwide, which for years used PFAS-tainted Scotchgard to treat shoes.
“If you’re not supposed to touch it, then yes, they shouldn’t be swimming in it,” Garnier said.
The state last June warned against ingesting the foam after high levels of PFAS were found in mounds of it in the Rogue River below the dam. Health officials feared kids playing in the water might accidentally swallow it.
Now, based on the latest science, they’re saying PFAS at such high levels can soak in through the skin. They worry about repeated, long-term exposure, especially for kids.
“For a young kid, we’re assuming they’re out there playing in a swimsuit or a diaper,” MacKenzie-Taylor said. “They could get it across most of their body.”
The same warning goes for the Thornapple River, just below the Cascade Dam. Target 8 discovered the foam on the Thornapple last June, leading to the initial health advisory.
On Thursday, the foam piled up to 18 inches deep along both banks of the Thornapple. Local fisherman Lee Rabideau cast his line between chunks.
“I fish all the time,” he said. “It’s what I love to do. On my way to work, I usually stop for an hour every day, just to clear my head.”
He had just learned about the new warning.
“I’ll just keep my hands off the foam, and I usually throw all my fish back anyways,” he said.
The Cascade Dam is just downstream from the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, where firefighters used PFAS in a firefighting solution or decades.
“Avoid the foam and if you did get it on you, don’t panic, just rinse it off or wash it off when you have an opportunity to,” MacKenzie-Taylor said.
While county health officials in Oscoda are putting up warning signs about the foam next to a PFAS-polluted lake near the old Wurstmith Air Force Base, Kent County health officials say they have yet to have that discussion.