Health Dept. studying cancer clusters near 3 dumps

Toxic tap water: Tainted wells lead to Kent County's biggest-ever cancer study

plainfield township, wolverine worldwide, contaminated water
A well in Belmont that was contaminated, likely by chemicals from an old Wolverine Worldwide dump site. (Sept. 26, 2017)


PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent County Health Department is launching its most expansive cancer cluster study ever in response to contaminated groundwater next to a former Wolverine Worldwide dump site.

The health department said it expects the study will focus not only homes around the site on House Street NE in Belmont, but also two other sites identified as possible Wolverine dumps.

Those are on 12 Mile Road NE near the White Pine Trail north of Rockford and on the Boulder Creek Golf Club near Cannonsburg Road NE, south of Rockford.

Map: Confirmed and possible former Wolverine Worldwide dump sites.

“This is an evolving situation,” Kent County Health Department epidemiologist Brian Hartl said.

Hartl said the study — which is so big that the county has asked the state for help — is meant to determine if contamination in groundwater has led to a spike in cancer.

“As much as we can to support the citizens in this fight for their health, that’s we are here to do,” Hartl said. “That’s what we can contribute to this as epidemiologists, as the health department is to do this survey, to hear their voice and to raise that voice and to make that voice heard.”

So far, the focus has been on the House Street dump, which Wolverine operated legally before it stopped using it in 1970.

Neighbors also led Target 8 to two nearby illegal dumps — ravines on either side of House Street with a total of nearly 40 rusty 55-gallon drums and mounds of partially buried processed animal hides.

Earlier this year, a Rockford citizens group, working with a Grand Valley State University scientist, notified the state about the likelihood that the area was contaminated with PFOS, a chemical that had been used in Scotchgard, which Wolverine used for decades in the production of shoes. 3M stopped using the chemical in Scotchgard in 2002 and the EPA in 2005 called it a possible carcinogen.

Then, this summer, tests found high levels of PFOS in the well water of homes on House Street, including one that was 542 times the EPA advisory level. So far, tests have found PFOS in 14 of 21 homes in that area, including seven with levels above the EPA limit.

The health department said it will study cancer rates for the last 25 years. It will look for clusters of rare cancers, including pediatric cancer. Previous studies, Hartl said, show the chemical is associated with kidney and testicular cancers.

The health department also is working on a survey it will send to residents to determine if there are other illnesses that could be associated with the chemical. Those include hypertension during pregnancy, liver problems, high cholestrol and thyroid problems, Hartl said.

Hartl said the cancer study should start soon; it could take a month or more before the survey of other health problems is ready.

It’s not clear how many homes would be involved, or how they would be surveyed, though it could be door-to-door or online, Hartl said.

Hartl called it an important study.

“It’s easy for someone to say, ‘It’s not happening with me, it’s not a big deal,’ but as the Kent County Health Department, we are here to protect and serve the health of the community,” Hartl said.

In a statement, Wolverine said it was aware of the survey and was cooperating.