PFAS blood tests do little to confirm fears, ease concerns

Jack McNaughton
20-month-old Jack McNaughton. (Jan. 9, 2018)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s a number that has added to the fear and anxiety of families in northern Kent County: 484,000 parts per trillion, the level of a likely carcinogen in 20-month-old Jack McNaughton’s blood.

“I said, ‘In his tiny little body?’ And I just grabbed him and I started crying,” Jack’s mother Tobyn McNaughton told Target 8, recalling hearing the blood test results.

The chemical, PFAS, was once found in the Scotchgard used to waterproof shoes from Rockford-based Wolverine Worldwide, its byproduct dumped decades ago in northern Kent County and left to leach into residential wells. The federal advisory limit for PFAS in drinking water is 70 ppt. On Tuesday, the state set its standard at the same level.

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

For the many Plainfield and Algoma township families whose water is contaminated by the chemical, PFAS, the blood tests provide few answers.

“It’s very frustrating for us, but more importantly, it’s frustrating for the people exposed,” said Dr. Mark Hall, the medical director for the Kent County Health Department.

He said high levels of PFAS in blood tests are not a surprise. Health officials say the levels are expected with such high concentrations found in area wells.

But what do those numbers mean? Hall said large-scale studies have tried to correlate high PFAS levels in blood with associated diseases.

“They’ve not come up with really anything that can say OK, if your levels really high or your levels really low that you will or will not get a disease,” Hall said.

The Kent County Health Department has not recommended blood tests for those whose wells tested high for PFAS. The tests are expensive and do little beyond providing numbers.

“There’s no treatment,” Hall said. “It’s not like if my blood’s checked and it’s real high, I’m going to the hospital and get therapy or be put on a medicine or given a treatment.”

Instead, it makes for just one more frustration in a situation riddled with unanswered questions.

“There’s a lot of possibly and potentially and those kinds of soft words,” Hall said of PFAS contamination, “and unfortunately, there’s not enough data to back up a stronger statement one way or the other.”

If you do want a blood test, the health department will help point you in the right direction.

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: