State considering PFAS blood tests for research

Plainfield Township, Wolverine Worldwide, waste site
The site of an old Wolverine Worldwide waste site off House Street in Plainfield Township. (Aug. 30, 2017)

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — State health officials are considering a massive PFAS blood testing program for parts of northern Kent County, but say the testing wouldn’t be meant to help residents with potential treatment.

Instead, it will give scientists a chance to study perhaps the most intense PFAS contamination zone in the U.S., health officials said.

“There’s individual blood testing, then there’s part of being a health study, and that’s a very different issue,” said Eden Wells, chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Until now, local and state health leaders have resisted discussing the possibility of blood tests in the Wolverine Worldwide PFAS crisis in Algoma and Plainfield townships. Wolverine has posted on its blog that blood testing isn’t necessary.

“I think there is a role for blood testing as part of a very carefully designed health study, as what was done in Parkersburg,” Wells said.

A PFAS crisis in Parkersburg, West Virginia, led doctors to a health study of 69,000 residents, including blood samples. It led researchers to determine that PFAS has probable links to kidney and testicular cancers, ulcerative colitis, thyroid problems, hypertension in pregnancy and high cholesterol.

It also helped lead to a $670 million settlement with DuPont.

But the PFAS levels in Parkersburg were much lower than those in Plainfield and Algoma townships, researchers said.

On 11 Mile Road NE in Algoma Township, a residential well tested at nearly 59,000 parts per trillion — more than 840 times the state’s legal limit for drinking water.

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

Wells said she is working with the Kent County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control on a possible blood study.

She said it’s complicated in Kent County because of the many Wolverine PFAS dump sites and the fact that Rockford residents got their water from the Rogue River, just downstream from Wolverine’s tannery, until 2000.

PFAS has contaminated the drinking wells of 392 homes in Plainfield and Algoma townships, including 88 above the state’s legal limit.

Sandy Wynn-Stelt, who lives across from Wolverine’s former House Street dump, has 5 million ppt of PFAS in her blood — the most that experts have ever heard.

Wells, the state health official, said it’s not clear when officials will decide on a blood study, or when it would start.

“I know people say it should be done right now, but I think going in helter-skelter doesn’t provide good data, it just provides numbers,” Wells said.

“If work can be done in Michigan that can help lend to the national knowledge of (PFAS) and how they impact a community and a community’s health, that would be the silver lining,” she continued.

RESOURCES FOR PLAINFIELD AND ALGOMA TOWNSHIP 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: