The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Kent County Health Department will begin recruiting participants from northern Kent County for an assessment regarding PFAS exposure.
The state will assess select households within the north Kent environmental investigation area that have drinking water wells containing PFAS-contaminated water, according to testing by the state or Wolverine Worldwide’s contractor.
The assessment will gather participants’ blood samples for PFAS testing, personal health information, post-filter water tests and information about activities unrelated to drinking water that could cause PFAS exposure, such as ingesting contaminated fish or working with PFAS products.
The data then will be evaluated to learn more about the relationship between the contaminated drinking water and how it affects the body.
MDHHS last month began contacting selected households to participate in the assessment and will continue invitations through spring 2019. All residents who have been involved with the investigation will be informed about the testing. Not all residents with PFAS in their water will be selected for this assessment.
Tests are planned to begin in December and last until a sufficient number of participants have been recruited.
Following a protocol created in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry, these tests are the next step to understanding how PFAS has affected residents and will inform further proceedings, according to Alicynne Glazier, the Kent County epidemiologist hired in July to focus on the PFAS issue.
An MDHHS study in August found no consistent elevation in cancer incidences in northern Kent County, except in prostate cancer, which could have other causes.
The state said Kent County was chosen for this assessment because no other area in Michigan has as many wells exceeding the advisory level, nor are any test results as high.
Glazier said individual results will be sent to participants, who then may discuss outcomes with their physicians.
Glazier would not comment about expectations the department has for assessment results or about common concerns from residents.
“I will say that this was an area of great concern for residents of our community, particularly in this particular area of exposure, and that we are working very hard to advocate for those residents and to hear their concerns and respond timely and appropriately,” she said.
The contamination issue is related a discovery by Rockford-based footwear manufacturer Wolverine Worldwide in spring 2017 of PFAS-contaminated drinking water in the House Street area of Belmont.
Several lawsuits since have been filed, including by Grand Rapids attorney Aaron Phelps, representing more than 100 residents, and by a national team of firms that alleges Wolverine Worldwide and Waste Management participated in dumping waste containing PFAS from 3M Company’s Scotchgard product at “more than 75 sites in Kent County.”
The federal lawsuit alleges Wolverine and 3M were “aware of Scotchgard’s dangers to human health for decades but covered up the truth until unrelated groundwater testing revealed the contamination in the summer and fall of 2017."
Since the discovery, Wolverine Worldwide has been working with the MDEQ and the Kent County Health Department to test the water in the study area and buffer zone.
The company has paid for the installation of hundreds of whole-house filtration systems.
According to Wolverine Worldwide, PFAS chemicals have been used for decades and are found in many products and technologies that feature nonstick, stain-resistant or water-resistant qualities.
Wolverine used 3M Scotchgard to provide water- and stain-repellant properties in some of its leathers beginning around 1960. It switched to a new formula introduced by 3M Scotchgard around 2002 when the potentially harmful properties of the chemicals were discovered and 3M made the switch.
Wolverine Worldwide declined to comment on its latest involvement with the issue.
Glazier said the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will host a public meeting in early 2019 to provide updates on the area’s full environmental investigation.
Glazier added residents with questions or concerns about PFAS can contact her on her work phone at (616) 632-7071, her cell phone at (616) 401-9469 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.