PFAS task force goal: Act early to protect health

One-on-one with former state deputy attorney general leading coordination effort

Carol Isaacs, Michigan PFAS Action Team
Carol Isaacs, leader of Michigan PFAS Action Response Team discusses the task force in her office on Nov. 15, 2017.

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan’s former chief deputy attorney general said only something very important could have brought her out of retirement. That something was a request from the governor to lead a task force coordinating response to a likely carcinogen found in Belmont well water and elsewhere in the state.

Gov. Rick Snyder announced the formation of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team, or MPART, Monday to deal with what many believe will be a growing problem in Michigan.

“I think that a governor who brings this to this level and he centralizes this, makes the center of gravity the actual executive office that he operates so that you can pull this whole thing together, has done something that is unique — perhaps unique in the nation,” Carol Isaacs, the leader of MPART, told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday.

The former critical health care nurse says her background in medicine and law, combined with the high-level, team approach of this assignment compelled her to get on board.

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

The source of PFAS contamination in Belmont is likely the Scotchgard residue in Wolverine Worldwide waste that was dumped at a landfill along House Street NE decades ago. At other spots in the state where the chemical has been detected, the source could be anything from firefighting foams to food packaging because PFAS was used in a slew of products.

“We’ve had these chemicals around since the 1950s and we’ve all been exposed at some point,” Isaacs said.

The length, amount and type of exposure vary and its exact impact isn’t totally clear, but Isaacs said she wants to act even while scientists study the chemicals.

“This effort is to get this established even before research is definitive,” she said. “Research could go on for years, so this effort now is to be as proactive and protective of the health of Michigan (residents) even before the research is completed.”

Research at the federal level has placed PFAS on something called the Contaminant Candidate List, or CCL. In layman’s terms, that seems to mean the stuff is bad but researchers haven’t yet confirmed how bad.

Isaacs said 33 states are dealing with PFAS contamination and the problem stretches around the globe. She said it will likely be a yearslong environmental battle.

Isaacs said she knows that no matter how much Lansing does, the problem is personal and emotional for those impacted. She plans to do a lot of one-on-one communication to help alleviate the stress this kind of situation can cause.

“I really do have a heartfelt affinity for how people feel about their health and when it’s threatened, so the communications piece is really essential for us at the local level with individuals,” she said.

State Cabinet-level directors and the state departments responsible for public health, the environment, agriculture and military affairs will meet this week when the task force convenes for the first time.

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: