How state will spend money in PFAS response

Plainfield Township, Imperial Pine Drive NE, toxic tap water
Crews cleanup suspected Wolverine Worldwide waste along Imperial Pine Drive NE in Plainfield Township. (Oct. 24, 2017)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In one of the last votes for the Michigan Legislature before breaking for the year, lawmakers voted Wednesday to send resources to help with the response to PFAS-contaminated water sooner rather than later.

The Legislature came up with $23 million in supplemental spending to address the problem. It’s essentially a down payment on what will be a yearslong process of finding out where PFAS-related chemicals are, how they affect people and how to get rid of them.

For Republican state Reps. Rob VerHeulen of Walker and Chris Afendoulis of Grand Rapids Township, the top priority is public health. They represent the areas in Algoma and Plainfield townships where PFAS has been found in residential wells, the problem blamed on waste dumped decades ago by Rockford-based shoe manufacturer Wolverine Worldwide.

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

“There are a lot of things that it will cover,” Afendoulis said of the supplemental spending.

That includes everything from investigation to remediation to more medical research.

Part of the problem is that while PFAS is considered a likely carcinogen and has been linked to other illnesses, there is no consensus of just exactly what it does in every circumstance.

“We’re going to be unclear for a while, but of course our primary focus has been public health and it’s been an incredible partnership with Kent County Health Department,” VerHeulen said.

Health is going to be a big focus of where the state money goes, including buying equipment that will allow for state-administered PFAS testing right here in Michigan.

“There are very few private test labs that are certified to do this kind of testing across the county, which has resulted in high fees to do the test and great delays,” VerHeulen explained.

The legislature hopes to lower costs and shorten delays using the money approved Wednesday.

The initial focus will be on clean water and healthy people. Afendoulis and VerHeulen know it will be a long haul to figure out the rest. The larger question of cleanup and blame will have to wait, at least for now.

“Who pays for that and how that all transpires, well that, as you say, that could have some long term aspects to it,” Afendoulis said.

“Long-term … we’re going to be dealing with this for years. People ask me who’s ultimately going to pay and if there’s going to be federal resources. We’re going to be sorting that out. There’s going to be litigation. It’s going to be a long, long time,” VerHeulen said.

The state money will be available to the 28 PFAS contamination sites identified around the state, including those in Kent County. The emerging problem of PFAS has been identified in more than 30 states and locations around the globe.

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: