Study: PFAS blood levels higher than average in northern Kent County

Toxic Tap Water

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Blood test results from northern Kent County found higher than average levels of some types of PFAS, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The state Department of Health and Human Services and the Kent County Health Department in 2018 and 2019 tested the blood of more than 400 people whose wells were contaminated by the likely carcinogen in Plainfield and Algoma townships. They had hoped to test 800.

Scientists compared PFAS blood levels in northern Kent County to levels in the blood of the average U.S. resident. They found higher-than-average levels of two types of PFAS.

But the levels were not nearly as high as those who live in other hard-hit areas, such as the Ohio River Valley, or of people who work with PFAS.

“These findings suggest the need for continued public health action in the North Kent County area to investigate PFAS exposures and resulting long-term health effects,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, said in a press release. “The assessment team continues to analyze data, including questionnaires and drinking water samples from study participants.”

The state and county invited people to get their blood tested if they lived in the northern Kent County PFAS zones and had detectable levels of the chemicals in their wells.

The study is similar, but on a much smaller scale, to what happened in West Virginia, where researchers tested the blood of 69,000 people after PFAS linked to a DuPont plant was found in the water. There, researchers found probable links to kidney and testicular cancers, ulcerative colitis, thyroid problems, hypertension in pregnancy and high cholesterol.

The PFAS contamination in northern Kent County covers an area that’s five miles long and six miles wide, impacting nearly 1,000 wells in Plainfield and Algoma townships.

It started with the House Street dump in Belmont, where Wolverine Worldwide dumped PFAS-tainted sludge for decades until 1970. It was later discovered at farm fields where the shoemaker also dumped sludge. The source of the PFAS was the Scotchgard that the Rockford-based shoemaker used for waterproofing.

The state said it is working on other studies to determine if the PFAS levels may be linked to illnesses in northern Kent County.

It also plans similar studies near Kalamazoo in Cooper Township and the city of Parchment.

The state expects those studies to start by the end of the year.

The state also got a federal grant to include the Belmont-Rockford area among seven sites nationwide in a PFAS health study. That study is expected next year.

“We now have a result that shows that more people have higher blood levels here in this community,” state toxicologist T. Joost van‘t Erve said. “So we’re moving ahead and doing the next step in the public health investigation and doing the two health studies that will come to this area that people can participate in and that will specifically look at is there a relationship between the high PFAS that we found in blood and does that lead to an increase in health outcomes for people that have that level?”

The contamination in northern Kent County led to a $69.5 million settlement with Wolverine and Scotchgard maker 3M, which is being used to extend the municipal water system to hard-hit areas, including House Street.

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