PFAS in Kent County

The issues surrounding PFAS in West Michigan are difficult to understand. WMEAC is here to help you with any support in ensuring you understand the issue and know how to take action.

WMEAC has been engaged in the efforts to get Wolverine Worldwide to clean up its tannery and dump sites in Northern Kent County and is an active member of the Community Advisory Group (CAG).

Wolverine CAG

The Wolverine Community Advisory Group is made up of community members living or working in Northern Kent County who have been impacted by the contaminated Wolverine Worldwide tannery and dump sites. You can learn more and connect with the CAG on their website and Facebook page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of man-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s.

  • PFAS are not naturally occurring, but are widespread in the environment.
  • PFAS are found in people, wildlife and fish all over the world.1
  • Some PFAS do not break down easily in the environment.
  • Most people in the United States have at least one type of PFAS in their bloodstream.2

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is a large group of chemicals.

Here is a short list of some of the more common abbreviations and their chemical names:

  • PFOS: Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid
  • PFOA: (aka C8) Perfluorooctanoic acid
  • PFBA: Perflurobutane sulfonic acid
  • PFNA: Perfluorononanoic acid
  • PFDA: Perfluorodecanoic acid
  • PFOSA (FOSA): Perfluorooctane sulfonaminde
  • MeFOSAA (aka Me-PFOSA-AcOH): 2-(N-Methyl-perfluorooctane sulfonamido) acetic acid
  • Et-FOSAA (aka Et-PFOSA-AcOH): 2-(N-Ethyl-perfluorooctane sulfonamido acetic acid
  • PFHxS: Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid

For the general population, ingestion of PFAS is considered the major human exposure pathway.

The major types of human exposure sources for PFAS include:

  • Drinking contaminated water,
  • Ingesting food contaminated with PFAS, such as certain types of fish and shellfish
  • Eating food packaged in materials containing PFAS (e.g., popcorn bags, fast food containers, and pizza boxes),3
  • Hand-to-mouth transfer from surfaces treated with PFAS-containing stain protectants, such as carpets, which is thought to be most significant for infants and toddlers.

PFAS can travel long distances, move through soil, seep into groundwater, or be carried through air.

Although there is no national standard for PFAS levels, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established the health advisory levels at 70 parts per trillion (ppt).

Michigan has adopted a clean up standard for contaminated groundwater supplies of 70 ppt for PFOS+PFOA.

At high concentrations, certain PFAS have been linked to adverse health effects4 in laboratory animals that may reflect associations between exposure to these chemicals and some health problems such as:

  • Low birth weight,
  • Delayed puberty onset,
  • Elevated cholesterol levels,
  • Reduced immunologic responses to vaccination.

Some studies5 in humans with PFAS exposure have shown that certain PFAS may:

  • Affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children,
  • Lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant,
  • Interfere with the body’s natural hormones,
  • Increase cholesterol levels,
  • Affect the immune system,
  • Increase the risk of cancer.

PFAS with long carbon chains have estimated half-lives in the human body ranging from 2-9 years6 such as:

  • PFOA 2 to 4 years
  • PFOS 5 to 6 years
  • PFHxS 8 to 9 years

Long chain PFAS compounds bind to albumen in blood serum and are reabsorbed by the human kidney. Because of these properties, long chain PFAS compound bioaccumulate, meaning their concentration increases over time in the blood and organs.

These chemicals are persistent, and resist degradation in the environment.7

According to the Department of Health, PFAS levels take about 2-4 years to naturally decline if there’s no additional exposure depending on the type of contaminant.8

An NSF P473 approved filter should be used. Filters must be selected, operated, and maintained to manufacturers specifications.9,10

Most household water filters haven’t been officially certified to remove PFAS/PFOS/PFOA although literature from a similar contamination in New York have shown that carbon water systems may be effective.

Unfortunately, it cannot. Boiling water can actually increase the PFAS levels.

The safest method for avoiding exposure is to consume bottled water, or water from an NSF P473 approved filter.

Due to the high environmental footprint associated with purchasing individual use bottled water, WMEAC recommends the use of a water delivery service, such as Gordon Water Service (http://www.gordonwater.com/bottled-water-commercial/), Absopure (http://www.absopure.com/lp/home-and-office-water-delivery/), or Costco ( https://www.costcowater.com/costcowater) .

There are 18 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved labs in the United States to test for PFAS using EPA protocol 537.11 Below is a pdf with the available labs. It should be noted that none are located in Michigan.

Currently Fleis & VandenBrink and Gordon Water Systems will collect samples from areas in the Grand Rapids region and send those samples to a PFAS certified lab mentioned in the document above. This process can cost approximately $1400 for one household.

Although PFAS testing is not routinely advised, testing can be discussed:5, 9

  • With your healthcare provider,12
  • With your regional Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU).

Testing is rather expensive around $650 and takes 2-3 months to get results back.

Although blood levels are not correlated with disease rates, they do indicate the level of exposure due to the long half life and bioaccumulation. High exposure levels increase the odds of developing certain forms of cancer.

Safe Drinking Water Act

Toxic Substances Control Act

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act

Clean Air Act

Wolverine World Wide has disposed of process waste from waterproofing leather with 3M Scotchgard, which is a PFAS containing agent that was discontinued in 2000. The wastes were disposed of in landfills, applied to farmland, and on company owned property. Disposal areas have contaminated groundwater that have impacted private wells, the Plainfield Township municipal water system, and the Rogue River.14

Wolverine World Wide was using 3M’s Scotchgard product to make their products in the area. 3M’s Scotchgard product contains PFAS chemicals. There is some evidence that they dumped their waste from that process in the area, though the investigation is still underway.

Wolverine is conducting the investigation as a voluntary effort under the state’s Part 201 environmental cleanup rules.

Wolverine has installed water infiltration systems in over 460 homes, paid for groundwater testing for more than 1,500 homeowners, and installed more than 30 monitoring wells in the community.

Wolverine is currently seeking dismissal for over 50 suits against them over PFAS dumping.

Below is a report from the Kent County Health Department which is working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to begin a health study report directly related to PFAS exposure in the Plainfield township/Rockford area.

The county is also building a municipal water system costing $25 million that Wolverine will play a role in paying for.

In communities that may have a PFAS presence, the state has been collecting residential well data to determine if PFAS has entered residential drinking wells.

The state is making $750,000 available for Plainfield Township to do filtration updates to their water system.

The Governor has assembled a Michigan PFAS Action Response Team from ten (10) state departments, including the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (MDMVA), Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), who are ensuring that public health is protected while Michigan’s environmental heritage is secured.15

It is advised not to eat or drink the food and water in a PFAS exposed area as it can lead to contamination. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) is a leading source for information and advice about farming, livestock and agricultural concerns regarding PFAS and areas of exposure.

Contact your local water supplier and ask for information on PFOA and PFOS in their drinking water and request a copy of their Consumer Confidence Report.

Avoid consumption of fish caught in the local area as many have been testing positive for contaminated PFAS amounts.16, 17

If concerned that your private well is contaminated contact the Michigan DEQ’s Environmental Services Center (800-662-9278) or your local health department.18

Be wary of other contaminants in your area including septic, livestock, petroleum and manure related.

Keep up to date records of maintenance, repairs, and water tests. These can help identify any problems and when they originated.

Practice safe chemical storage, keeping, and disposal.

Minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides on your own lawn and garden.

Routinely check underground tanks that may contain oil, gasoline, or fuel.

Be wary of pooling and runoff rainwater near your well as it can carry harmful substances and contaminates such as PFAS.19, 20

There are a few methods to removing PFAS including through:21

  • Activated Carbon
  • Reverse Osmosis

The DEQ has published a map of confirmed PFAS sites throughout Michigan: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-map-confirmedPFASsites_611932_7.pdf

There is testing being done in and appointments set up to test private wells on the edge of the buffer zones of the contamination.

There currently is no reason to assume these compounds have infiltrated these zones as of yet, but there is no saying if it will be a future problem or not.

If you live in a buffer zone and are concerned if your private well is affected, you can contact the MDHHS and they will discuss your concern and determine if testing is necessary or not.

Depending on the half-life of the PFAS contaminant, it could biodegrade by the time it reaches outside contamination zones. Future questions can be answered by the MDEQ or MDHHS.

The first step is to avoid commercial PFAS containing products. Some of these products may include:

non-stick cooking utensils, pots and pans, popcorn bags, take out containers (i.e. pizza boxes), carpeting and staining treatments, stain and water repellent clothing and goods, some camping and outdoor goods.

Communicate your concerns to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Request to be involved in the water testing and treatment process.

Become involved with coalitions, and/or town hall, local, and state meetings.

Write to your legislator encouraging to pass the Michigan bill proposing the lowest PFAS limit at 5ppt in drinking water.

Write to Wolverine, 3M, MDEQ and EPA to advocate and encourage more transparency of public information granted by the Freedom of Information Act.

Participate in public interest groups and/or action councils to advocate for environmental justice.

The answer is just a repeat of the question, so take that out. The answer should be: “The Great Lakes PFAS Action Network was just formed to bring organizations together to help fight PFAS contamination throughout Michigan. It is anticipated that they will maintain an updated list of organizations that would need volunteers and resources.

https://www.michiganradio.org/post/local-environmental-groups-form-pfas-action-coalition

EPA in Michigan: Wolverine World Wide Tannery. URL: https://www.epa.gov/mi/wolverine-world-wide-tannery

Taking Action, Protecting Michigan: Governor’s Directive Creates PFAS Action Response Team. URL: http://www.michigan.gov/som/0,4669,7-192-45414_45929_83470—,00.html

Plainfield Charter Township. Groundwater Contamination in House Street Area, Belmont. URL: https://www.plainfieldmi.org/house-st-ground-water-contamination.html

Report prepared for Wolverine Worldwide by Rose & Westra. Conceptual Site Model and Remedial Investigation Work Plan. November 27, 2017. URL: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/ConceptualSiteModel-RIWP-112717-re

Environmental Protection, Online. What is PFAS – and Why Should you Care? URL: https://eponline.com/Articles/2017/06/15/What-is-PFAS.aspx?Page=1

Assistant Secretary of the Navy; Energy, Installations, & Environment. The possible health effects of human exposure to PFC/PFAS: PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, and PFNA. URL: http://www.secnav.navy.mil/eie/Pages/PossibleHealthEffect.aspx

Wolverine Community Advisory Group (CAG) – Website | Facebook

References Cited

  1. Polyfluoroalkyl Compounds in the Aquatic Environment [View More]
  2. NHANES Polyfluoroalkyl Chemicals in the U.S. Population Survey [View More]
  3. Schaider, L.A., S.A. Balan, A. Blum, D.Q. Andress, M.J. Strynar, M.E. Dickinson, D.M. Lunderberg, J.R. Lang, and G.F. Peaslee. 2017. Fluorinated compounds in U.S. fast food packaging. Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett. 4(3): 105-111. URL: [View More]
  4. C8 Science Panel website; URL: [View More]
  5. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a part of the CDC, Center for Disease Control and Prevention. URL: [View More]
  6. Olsen, G.W., J.M. Burris, D.J. Ehresman, J.W. Froehlich, A.M. Seacat, J.L. Butenhoff, and L.R. Zobel. 2007. Half-life of serum elimination of  perfluorooctanesulfonate, perfluorohexanesulfonate, and perfluorooctanoate in retired fluorochemical production workers. Environ. Health Perspect. 115(9): 1298-1305. URL: [View More]
  7. USEPA. PFOA, PFOS and other PFASs: Basic Information on PFAS. URL: [View More]
  8. New York State Department of Health. PFOA Biomonitoring (Blood Sampling) Program. URL: [View More]
  9. Kent County Health Department for PFAS Facts and Questions. URL: [View More]
  10. DEQ, Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Division. Fact Sheet: PFAS In-Home Infiltration Systems. URL: [View More]
  11. EPA Approved Laboratories for UCMR 3. URL: [View More]
  12. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Overview of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances and Interim Guidance for Clinicians Responding to Patient Exposure Concerns. Interim Guidance, June 7, 2017. URL: [View More]
  13. USEPA. PFOA, PFOS and other PFASs: PFAS Laws and Regulations. URL: [View More]
  14. Michigan Office of Regulatory Reinvention. House Street Disposal Area, Belmont, MI, Kent County. URL: [View More]
  15. Michigan Office of Regulatory Reinvention. Frequently Asked PFAS Questions. URL: [View More]
  16. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Eat Safe Fish Guidelines: URL: [View More]
  17. Tower, M. 2018. Fish advisories issues for Michigan lakes, river impacted by PFAS contamination. Mlive article posted 3/15/2018, updated 3/16/2018. URL: [View More]
  18. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Local Health Department Map. URL: [View More]
  19. National Groundwater Association. Informing consumers about groundwater and water wells. URL: http://wellowner.org/
  20. The Private Well Class. Do you know how your well works? URL: http://privatewellclass.org/
  21. American Water Works Association. Perfluorinated Compounds: Treatment and Removal. URL: [View More]