Michigan PFAS activist has cancer, says she’s not surprised

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BELMONT — A woman who was honored by the federal government for her environmental activism in West Michigan has been diagnosed with cancer.

Sandy Wynn-Stelt told WOOD-TV that her thyroid and lymph nodes were removed last week. She has lived for more than 30 years across from a Kent County site where Wolverine Worldwide dumped PFAS-tainted sludge.

Blood tests have revealed 5 million parts per trillion of PFAS in her blood, which is an extraordinarily high level.

“I guess I wasn’t surprised” by the cancer, said Wynn-Stelt, who lives in Belmont, north of Grand Rapids.

“I was also really thankful that I had a doctor that took these blood results really seriously and used that to drive treatment. I am really, really lucky in that respect,” she said.

PFAS is shorthand for a class of chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The chemicals are increasingly turning up in private wells, sludge from wastewater treatment plants and even food. They’re known as “forever chemicals” because they persist in the environment.

Federal studies have found links between high blood levels of older kinds of PFAS and a range of health problems. Wynn-Stelt’s husband, Joel, died from liver cancer four years ago.

“I have no history of cancer in my family. Joel had no history of cancer in his family, and here both of us are, facing it living across from the dump,” she said.

Wynn-Stelt has testified in Congress and at the state Capitol. The Environmental Protection Agency honored her with its national Citizen Excellence in Community Involvement Award.

Public water is being extended to about 1,000 properties in Plainfield and Algoma townships where PFAS contamination was found in wells. Wolverine, a footwear company, has said chemical manufacturer 3M would pay about half of the $113 million cleanup and remediation effort. Other lawsuits are pending.

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