Toxic tap water probe: Anxious families testing own wells

A water sample is loaded into an ice cooler and shipped to a lab to test for PFAS.

ALGOMA TOWNSHIP (WOOD) — Laura and Seth Powell are raising their 2-year-old son Caleb just down the road from an old Wolverine Worldwide dump site.

“The unknown is terrifying,” Laura Powell said last month as Target 8 took a sample of their well water to test for PFAS, a likely carcinogen in the Scotchgard Wolverine Worldwide once used to treat shoes at its Rockford tannery.

The PFAS contamination scare stemming from old Wolverine dump sites throughout northern Kent County is leading some families to spend hundreds of dollars to test their own wells.

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

The Powells wanted to know if their water could be poison to them and their son, who has lived his whole life at the home on 12 Mile Road NE near the White Pine Trail. But money is tight, and testing isn’t cheap: $400 for the test and almost $200 to ship it.

That’s through Eurofins labs. Other residents said they’ve gone through Gordon Water Systems, which uses a Pace Analytical lab in Florida and charges less than $400, without shipping.

Target 8 went through Eurofins in South Bend, which sent the Powells a kit packed inside an Igloo cooler.

The directions for testing PFAS are really pretty simple: Unscrew the aerator from the end of the kitchen faucet, let the cold water run for 10 minutes, put on the provided gloves and carefully fill two sample bottles.

Then, ship it overnight on ice in the cooler to the lab in South Bend.

Nineteen days later, the results are in: 7.3 ppt of PFAS. That’s well under the Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory limit of 70, but over the 1 ppt that Harvard University researchers say is unsafe for children.

Laura Powell immediately called her husband.

“I called Seth and just said I’m just sick to my stomach,” she said. “It could be worse- there are people with higher levels – but any level just doesn’t sit well with us, for anybody.”

They’ll keep drinking bottled water provided by Wolverine Worldwide, while hoping for a long-term solution.

“I would say it’s a shadow hanging over us for sure,” Laura Powell said.

She said the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has also tested their water, but they’ve been told it could take a few more weeks for results.

All around northern Kent County, anxious families are testing their own wells, not waiting for Wolverine Worldwide or the DEQ.

In Serenity Shores near 12 Mile Road NE and the White Pine Trail, private tests found low PFAS levels. Residents turned those over to the DEQ.

Near 11 Mile Road NE and Wolven Avenue in Algoma Township, one resident’s private test found an extremely high 2,430 parts per trillion.

That helped prompt Wolverine Worldwide to start testing 175 wells in the area where farmers decades ago reportedly dumped sludge on fields for fertilizer.

On Friday, residents in a new area learned that five private tests found low levels of PFAS — from 12 ppt to 17 ppt. That was in the Russell Ridge neighborhood near 14 Mile and Northland Drive in Algoma Township.

“From what I understand, this was all a big farm,” said Danielle Galloway, whose test results came in at 13.7 ppt.

“It’s frustrating because we just built our dream house, you know? A year and a half ago. And now we’re facing this,” she added.

Galloway said she won’t let her three children, ages 4 to 10, drink the water.

A mom’s limit for PFAS, she said, is much lower than the EPA’s.

“Zero. It has to be. I have to protect my children. That’s what it comes down to,” she said.

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: