How state reps are responding to toxic tap water

Wells at Rockford-area home are contaminated with likely carcinogen

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


LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — The toxic tap water in Kent County has the attention of the Michigan lawmakers who represent the area.

“It is disturbing,” state Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, said.

He is one of three members of the legislature who have constituents affected by contamination suspected to have been caused by decades-old dumping of toxic chemicals in the Rockford area. VerHeulen said all three of those legislators are keeping a close watch of the situation.

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

“Since it became aware of it, we have really engaged. It’s been sort of a collective effort from a legislative standpoint Sen. (Peter) MacGregor, Rep. (Chris) Afendoulis and I,” he said.

MacGregor is from Rockford and Afendoulis from Grand Rapids Township. Both are Republicans.

The three have been meeting with the state Department of Environmental Quality, the Department  of Health and Human Services, Rockford Public Schools, township officials and the Kent County Health Department.

“We met with Wolverine (Worldwide) and we were very blunt and we said, ‘Tell us, you know, be transparent.’ And I felt very good about it,” VerHeulen said.

Waste from the Rockford-based shoe manufacturing is suspected to be the cause of unsafe levels of a chemical that used to be using waterproofing shoes. The chemical, PFOS, is a likely carcinogen and has been linked to other illnesses.

“I mean, obviously it concerning whenever there’s a reading that’s higher that the health advisory, but I think that the regulatory agencies and the company are responding appropriately,” VerHeulen said.

No one yet knows how big the scope of the problem may be or how much the response could cost. The company has already promised whole-house filtration systems for homes within a certain distance of a dump on House Street NE in Belmont — likely to the tune of about $1.7 million — and a Wolverine Worldwide executive previously told Target 8 the company will take responsibility for its waste.

VerHeulen said he and his colleagues have reached out to the executive branch.

When asked if he thought the situation would ultimately require state funds, he replied, “I do.”

“I think this is an emerging public health issue,” he said. “I think that we have certainly, as West Michigan legislators, have encouraged DEQ to use whatever resources you need to get on top of this problem and I think the public supports that,” VerHeulen said.

As for what’s next, testing on water from at least one Rockford public school that uses a well is expected back soon. That could give a better indication just how widespread the toxic tap water may be.

>>App users: Interactive map of toxic tap water

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: