Residents worry about health after water tainted

Chemicals found at Belmont properties near old Wolverine Worldwide dumpsite

Belmont, PFAS, Wolverine Worldwide
County and state officials hold a town hall meeting in Rockford to discuss possible contamination of well water in Belmont. (Sept. 12, 2017)

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent County Health Department hosted a meeting Tuesday for Belmont-area residents who recently learned their well water may be contaminated — likely by chemicals a local shoe company used decades ago.

High levels of a chemical compound called PFAS were found in a couple dozen homes. The compound is used in waterproofing shoes. The source is believed to be a property on House Street near 10 Mile Road in Plainfield Township where Wolverine Worldwide dumped waste in the 1960s.

Plainfield Township, Wolverine Worldwide, waste site
The site of an old Wolverine Worldwide waste site off House Street in Plainfield Township. (Aug. 30, 2017)

According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, 38 parcels have been tested for contamination. Samples at 13 properties exceeded the health standard for PFAS and the chemicals were detected at 13 more. At nine of the properties, there was no detection. Three are still waiting on results. The DEQ says 70 more lots are scheduled to be tested.

Residents gathered at Rockford High School Tuesday for the meeting. Representatives from the DEQ, the Kent County Health Department, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Wolverine Worldwide were present to answer questions one-on-one and in a town hall-style meeting.

“I want to know who knew what when and why weren’t we told sooner,” resident Kurt Jackson, who’s waiting on test results for his property, told 24 Hour News 8 before the meeting.

Jackson has lived on House Street for 28 years and raised his three kids there. They used well water up until a few weeks ago when they were notified it could be unsafe. For now, they’re playing it safe and only using bottled water.

“We’re not looking for money,” he said. “We’re concerned about our health.”

His biggest concern is what effect the water could or did have on his family’s health. Jackson has had a few tumors removed and his neighbors have had health problems.

“A number of people in the area have had cancer. A number have passed from it. Some still have cancer now. And is it environmental or just coincidental?” he wondered.

At the meeting, officials said potential health effects of PFAS exposure include thyroid dysfunction, testicular cancer, high cholesterol, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis, elevated liver enzymes, pregnancy-induced hypertension and high uric acid. However, health officials stressed that not everyone exposed may develop those conditions.

One resident, a mother, brought up concerns about her child ingesting the chemicals while in the bath.

“I have two small children and they bathe in this water and it is impossible for them not to drink it. Like trying making a 1-year-old not drink bath water, it’s not going to happen. What are options for that?” she asked.

The health department said swallowing small amounts of the contaminated water shouldn’t have any serious effects.

“The drinking, the cooking, is easy, relatively easy to take care of by getting a filter, by using bottled water. The bathing part, that’s something that’s not so easily taken care of, so we want to be sure that we have the appropriate information for you,” an official added.

Residents questioned whether the township would consider running city water to affected properties and township officials said they were looking into it.

When asked about a timeline for the testing of the remaining properties, the DEQ said it should be completed before the end of the year.

Some residents expressed distrust of Wolverine Worldwide, saying they were skeptical about when the company knew about the contamination and its promises to help now.

–24 Hour News 8’s Sarah Hurwitz contributed to this report.