‘Unknowns’ of tainted water affecting housing market

PFOS, Belmont
An old Wolverine Worldwide dump in Belmont is believed to have contaminated well water with a chemical called PFOS.


PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Half-buried under dirt and leaves behind Tedd Ryfiak’s home on House Street NE in Belmont is more of what’s already been uncovered in the area: rusty barrels, mounds of leather scraps and chunks of an unknown glue-like substance.

The illegal dump is the third discovered near Wolverine Worldwide’s former legal landfill. Chemicals dumped there decades ago are now being blamed for contaminating well water in the area.

The Ryfiaks’ well has among the highest levels of that chemical — PFOS, which was in the Scotchgard used to waterproof Wolverine’s shoes — found in the neighborhood. Their biggest concern is the health of their three children. The Environmental Protection Agency has said PFOS is a likely carcinogen and it’s been linked to other illnesses, too.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the toxic tap water investigation

“You don’t want get told one day, ‘Hey, by the way, we poisoned your kids for however long you’ve been living here,’” Beatriz Ryfiak, Tedd Ryfiak’s ex-wife, told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday.

The Ryfiaks, along with others who live on House Street, are also worried their property value will plummet because of the contaminated water.

“Who’s going to want to buy this house? We probably don’t want it anymore but no one else is going to take it,” Beatriz Ryfiak said.

While contamination has only been confirmed in wells near the old landfill on House Street, the concerns reach far beyond that. Three other suspected Wolverine Worldwide dump sites have been discovered elsewhere around Rockford, prompting more testing, more health concerns and more questions about home values.

“I’m sure it’s going to impact the marketability just because of the amount of unknowns,” appraiser John Meyer told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday.

Meyer has appraised homes around West Michigan since 1976 and has dealt with water contamination before.

With so many questions remaining — including if, when and how the problem can be fixed — Meyer said it may be too early to determine the full impact on property values.

But if clean water can be provided to the areas impacted, he said history gives reason for some optimism.

“(After) the incident that causes the contamination, marketability values go down. As less and less questions are out there and more things are found out and the problems are cured, the values will come back up to market,” Meyer said. “I think it’s kind of a wait-and-see.”

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is still investigating the dump sites to determine the full extent of the problem. Residents near the sites, along with four schools in Rockford that use well water, are still waiting to have their water tested or waiting on results from such tests.

The Kent County Health Department is also conducting its largest ever cancer cluster study in the areas around the dumps.

RESOURCES FOR BELMONT RESIDENTS:

If you are eligible for a whole-house water filtration system from Wolverine Worldwide, you can call 616.866.5627 or email HouseStreet@wwwinc.com.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Environmental Assistance Center can be reached at 1.800.662.9278.

Websites with additional information on the contamination: