Water contamination experts talk one-on-one

Bryce Huffman from Michigan Radio was one of the news outlets present at a meeting over water safety held at Rockford High School Tuesday, September 12.

By BETH ALTENA

Prior to the four and a half hour meeting regarding water contamination around House Street held at Rockford High School Tuesday, September 12, representatives from Wolverine Worldwide, Plainfield Township, the Kent County Health Department, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services answered questions from concerned residents.

Bryce Huffman, from Michigan Radio, interviewed Christina Bush, toxicologist with the MDHHS. She said people want to hear about the water contamination.

“People have lived here quite a while. They want to know how long it was in the water, how it affects the health of their families.” She said these chemicals will stay in the environment a long time and the best thing to do is stop the exposure.

She was asked about reporting in another publication which mentioned fish eating advisories from the state regarding fish in the Rogue River north of the dam and why the state had not sent out press releases at the time of determination. According to the other publication, the determination was made several years ago regarding the safety of eating fish from north of the Rockford dam.

Bush said the advisories give limits about the amount of fish to be eaten safely and if there was a danger, the state would probably have put out a press release. According to the information at www.mi.gov/eatsafefish (on page 58), limits are placed on large mouth bass, small mouth bass and suckers. For both large and small mouth bass, the chemical of concern is Mercury. For both varieties, servings of fish over 18 inches should be  limited to one per month and for fish under 18 inches in length, two servings per month should be the limit. For suckers, the chemical of concern is Mercury and PFOS and any size fish should be limited to eating four servings per month.

A representative for Trout Unlimited declined to comment on the safety of trout in the Rogue River, saying it would be inappropriate.

Regarding the chemicals recently found in the proximity of a former Wolverine Worldwide tannery dump site, Bush said these chemicals (PFOA and PFOS) have been found elsewhere in Michigan. At Camp Grayling in Grayling the chemicals were likely from fire fighting for fires of aircraft and were in the form of AFFF (Aqueous Film Forming Foam). It was used to smother hard to put out fires.

Another contaminated site is in Oscoda County at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. High levels of the PFOS were first found in water samples tested in an armory in Belmont near the House Street site. Federal military sites across the nation have been testing their wells for PDOS after the conclusion that the chemicals can be harmful to humans.

Although the water at the Belmont Armory did test high in the contaminants, it is unlikely that the source was the Armory, since it only served administrative purposes for Veteran Affairs rather than serving as a military base or for military exercises. She said a likely fix for the contamination is the extension of municipal water.

“When they started using these chemicals, they weren’t problematic. Tests have become more refined over the years and now we see issues of concern.”

Lori Powers, Project Manager for Rose & Westra, said most of the wells being tested were southeast of US 131. Seventy tests were expected to be added this week to the 38 already conducted. It takes three to four weeks for results to come back.

Christopher Hufnagel, Senior Strategist for Wolverine Worldwide said the company is in this for the long term. “We’ve been here 100 years, we want to be here another 100 years.” He said filters and water bottles are the short term solution and the long term solution is not yet determined. He said the chemicals in question were unregulated at the time they were being used as waterproofing shoes by Wolverine. “It was unregulated then, it is an emerging substance.”

David O’Donnel, District Supervisor of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said he anticipates a lot of people outside of the test area are bound to have questions. “We are here to try to give answers. There are some high emotions.”

He said other sources of the contamination have been from fire fighting foam, and the Armory never used those types of foam. He said sites of contamination from these chemicals have been in Minnesota, West Virginia and New York State where Dupont is located. He said the big sites got people thinking about other places the substances may be found. The Armory was built in 2005 or 2006 as a church and would not have been a possible source of contamination.

“It was a fluke sort of not a fluke,” (that they found the substances while checking Armory wells). “We were already working with Wolverine to test these wells.”

He said the company has been cooperative and doing all they have been asked in the investigation. As far as remediation, O’Donnel said he is not an expert in that field, although theoretically the substances could be removed with a lot of carbon.

Another place Wolverine disposed of leather scraps is a State Disposal Site in the county. “We are looking forward to getting those results back.” He said testing is very expensive and there are a great deal of data
to consider.