State running 5-year study on PFAS health effects in West Michigan

Toxic Tap Water
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A well in Belmont, where residential wells have been contaminated with PFAS. (File)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — State health officials say they will spend the next five years studying how PFAS contamination in the drinking water around Rockford and Parchment is affecting people’s health.

PFAS was found in private wells in the Belmont area in 2017, blamed on waste dumped decades ago by Rockford-based shoemaker Wolverine Worldwide. It was also found in the municipal system that serves Parchment and surrounding areas in 2018. Some in the Parchment area sued 3M and landfill owner Georgia-Pacific over the source of that contamination, which may have come from the former Crown Vantage paper mill.

While the PFAS class of chemicals has been linked to cancer and other illnesses, studies have been limited about exactly what effects it can have.

As part of the Michigan PFAS Exposure and Health Study, people will fill out surveys and give a blood sample three times between the start of the study within the coming weeks and when it ends in 2026. The blood will be checked for PFAS levels, thyroid markers and cholesterol.

A previous study conducted by state and Kent County health officials in 2018 and 2019 already found that northern Kent County residents have higher than average levels of PFAS in their blood.

Sandy Wynn-Stelt has the highest level of PFAS in her blood ever found in a human. She lives across from the Wolverine Worldwide dump where the Belmont contamination is believed to have stemmed from and was recently diagnosed with cancer in her thyroid and lymph nodes. While it’s impossible to say for certain that PFAS caused the cancer, she said she thinks it’s likely.

Everyone eligible to participate in the upcoming MiPEHS should get an enrollment packet from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services by the end of the month. Anyone who thinks they are eligible but doesn’t get a package can call study partner RTI International at 855.322.3037 to discuss participating.

Another similar study in partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be launched in 2021. In addition to Parchment and Belmont, that one-year study will also cover six other areas around the country.

More information can be found on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ website.

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