GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The state and Kent County health officials are now laying the groundwork to address residents’ concerns about the likely carcinogen PFAS.
The Kent County Health Department is teaming up with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for the North Kent County PFAS Exposure Assessment. They’ll gather information from about 800 people in homes impacted by Wolverine Worldwide’s dumping of Scotchgard-tainted sludge that led to PFAS in northern Kent County’s groundwater.
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“Kent County was chosen for this assessment — and this is the first of its kind being conducted in the state — because no other area in Michigan, frankly, has had so many wells exceeding the advisory level. Nor are any of the levels as high as what we have experienced here in the north Kent County area,” explained Eden Wells, chief medical executive for the MDHHS.
The more than $1 million assessment is being funded by the state Legislature. It is welcome news for leaders of the citizens group Michigan Demand Action, which has been calling for this kind of study for a year.
“It’s very encouraging. I saw the state and the county coming together and hopefully, we can work together with citizens’ groups and bring the industries into this,” said Scott Harvey, who lives next to the Rogue River.
REASONS FOR THE TEST
Wells presented information about the assessment program Thursday at the Kent County Health Department.
“The PFAS exposure assessment will measure the relationship between drinking water with PFAS and the amount of PFAS that we will be able to measure in the bodies of the participants in the study,” she said.
While it may seem obvious that people with PFAS in their water will have the chemical in their blood, this test is the first step in a study to determine how PFAS is affecting people’s health.
“These blood tests can’t tell us what your health outcomes are going to be or if your health problems currently are related to any of that, but I think knowledge is power,” Wells said.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE?
Those eligible to participate in the program must have state tests that show an elevated level of PFAS in their water. Homes with levels exceeding the federal safety standard of 70 parts per trillion and some people with lower PFAS levels will be sampled.
“Those people must currently live at a home that was tested and have lived there on or before Jan. 1, 2018,” added Brian Hartl, epidemiology supervisor for the Kent County Health Department.
The health department will be contacting eligible households after Thanksgiving Day and the first assessments will take place early next month.
HOW IT WILL WORK
Participants will come to the health department where they will spend about 90 minutes answering questions about health and exposures to PFAS and then get a vial of blood drawn.
“In addition to drinking water, we may be asking questions about their work potential exposures, past exposures in terms of what they may have had in their household that may have contained PFAS chemicals,” Wells said.
Health department officials will also visit their home to test the water.
The participants will receive their results in two to four months. The results will be compared to the average blood levels nationwide.
Even after the assessment is done, a health study could take another two years to determine health effects. But it’s a good start, according to Harvey.
“If this is as bad as everybody seems to think it is, there will be health studies,” Harvey said. “There’s a lot of mysteries that have to be solved before this thing is settled.”
The program kicks off Nov. 27 with a meeting open to the public at Northview High School.