Brinks seeks oversight hearing on toxic tap water

Plainfield Township, illegal dump site
A dump site off House Street NE in Plainfield Township. (September 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A state lawmaker from Grand Rapids wants the Michigan House of Representatives Committee on Oversight to look in to the contamination of well water in northern Kent County.

State Rep. Winnie Brinks, a Democrat, requested a hearing on the PFAS contamination blamed on Wolverine Worldwide waste dumped around Rockford decades ago.

The hearing would seek on-the-record testimony from leaders of Wolverine, 3M (which made the Scotchgard containing PFAS that Wolverine used to waterproof its shoes) and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Brinks sent a letter to Rep. Joseph Graves, a Republican from the east side of the state who chairs the oversight committee, asking for the hearing, but no decision on whether it will actually be held has yet been made.

>>PDF: Brinks’ letter

Dozens of homes in the Belmont area and elsewhere around Rockford have been found to have high levels of PFAS, a likely carcinogen that has also been linked to other illnesses, in their wells. Testing is still ongoing. Wolverine is footing the bill for clean water for hundreds of homes in the area. The municipal water systems for Rockford and Plainfield Township have not been found to have levels of the chemical higher than the federal advisory limit.

As of Thursday, 18 state-level individual lawsuits and one federal class-action lawsuit had been filed against Wolverine in connection to the contamination.

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

Earlier this week, nearly every Michigan lawmaker in Washington sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency saying the federal government should do more about PFAS contamination across the state. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats, and 11 representatives including Republican Reps. Fred Upton, Justin Amash and Bill Huizenga, signed the letter.

The text of the letter from Michigan’s congressional delegation to the EPA:

“December 5, 2017

“The Honorable Scott Pruitt
Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460

“Dear Administrator Pruitt:

“We write to urge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to continue to actively engage in assisting the State of Michigan’s and the Department of Defense’s efforts to address serious public health threats stemming from exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) across multiple communities in our state. This problem is of such severity that the State of Michigan recently created a PFAS Action Response Team. We also believe that further engagement by the EPA on this growing problem is consistent with your stated goal of refocusing the agency on actions that directly protect public health and safety.

“As you are aware, these substances break down very slowly in the environment and remain in the blood and organs of exposed humans and wildlife for years. Exposure to these chemical compounds are linked to cancer as well as thyroid, kidney, liver, and reproductive problems. Over the past several months, a growing list of communities that span the state of Michigan are uncovering alarmingly high levels of PFOA and PFOS in soil, ground and drinking waters.

“Tainted soil and groundwater in Western Michigan have been found to contain PFOS and PFOA concentrations as high as 37,800 parts-per-trillion (ppt), more than 500 times the EPA’s health advisory level of 70 ppt. In addition, PFOA and PFOS have been found in raw and treated water in Ann Arbor.

“PFOA and PFOS have also been detected in waters and fish across Michigan, including in the Au Sable River, Flint River, Kalamazoo River, Muskegon River, Saginaw River, St. Joseph River, Tahquamenon River, Dead River, Thunder Bay River, Rogue River and St. Marys River; as well as in parts of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie.

“PFOA and PFOS from Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) used at active and decommissioned military bases have leached on and off-base. In Oscoda, PFOS has been identified in a lake near a legacy Air Force base at levels that reportedly exceed 100,000 ppt, as well as in private drinking wells of surrounding homes. These chemicals have also been discovered in and around Camp Grayling National Guard training base in Grayling and in private drinking wells near the former K.I. Sawyer Air Force base in Marquette.

“Thank you for your consideration of this request and for providing our offices with information on EPA’s engagement on this matter to date.

“We look forward to your expedient response.”

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: