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).
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
1. What are PFAS?
Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of harmful man-made chemicals that have been present in thousands of everyday products since the 1950’s.
- PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” since many of them don’t break down easily in the environment.
- PFAS can be found in humans, wildlife, and fish.1
- Most people in the US and the rest of the world have some PFAS in their bloodstream.2
2. PFAS Compounds and Abbreviations
PFAS is a large group of chemicals, there are nearly 5,000 unique PFAS chemicals.3 Some of the most common are:
- 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
3. What are the main sources of exposure to PFAS?
Ingestion of PFAS is considered to be the most common way it gets into the human body.
The major types of PFAS exposure for humans include:4
- Drinking contaminated water
Eating food contaminated with PFAS, such as fish, shellfish, and other animals that may have drank contaminated water or eaten contaminated food.
- Eating food that was prepared or packaged with PFAS-containing materials. This can include things such as grease-resistant paper, fast food wrapper, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, and even nonstick cookware.
- Accidentally swallowing contaminated soil or dust.
- Using some products such as stain-resistant carpeting or water-repellant clothing.
4. Is there a safe level of PFAS?
There is no safe level of PFAS. On June 15, 2022 the EPA released new drinking water regulations that set a nonbinding health advisory level for PFAS compounds at near 0 parts per trillion (ppt).5
In August 2020 Michigan adopted new standards for PFAS levels that are stricter than the EPA’s standard. The drinking water maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for PFOS is now 16 ppt and the MCL for PFOA is now 8 ppt.6
5. Health Effects of PFAS7
There have been numerous studies of PFAS levels in humans that found a probable link between PFAS exposure and certain conditions. Some of those conditions are:
- Increased cholesterol levels
- Changes in liver enzymes
- Low birth weights
- Decreased immune response to vaccines
- High blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women
- Kidney, testicular, or other cancers
Animal studies have linked high levels of PFAS exposure to:
- Liver damage
- Immune system damage
- Birth defects
- Delayed development
- Newborn deaths
6. Why and how long do PFAS remain in the body?
It takes anywhere from 2-9 years for the concentration of PFAS chemicals in blood to decrease.
- PFOA has a half-life in the body of 2-4 years. About every 3 years the blood-concentration of PFOA will reduce by half.8
- PFOS has a median half-life of 4.6 years.
- PFHS has a median half-life of 7.1 years.9
Long chain PFAS compounds bind to albumen in blood serum and are reabsorbed by the human kidney. Because of these properties, long chain PFAS compounds bioaccumulate, meaning their concentration increases over time in the blood and organs.
7. Do water filters work to reduce my exposure to PFAS?
There are two water filtration methods that can remove PFAS.10
Granulated Activated Carbon (GAC, aka charcoal filters) filtration systems are good for whole-home filtration and can effectively remove PFAS compounds from water. However GAC systems may not remove other contaminants found in well water.
Reverse osmosis (RO) filtration systems are good for single-point (like a kitchen sink) filtration and can also effectively remove PFAs from water.
8. Can PFOA and/or PFOS be boiled out of my water?
You cannot boil PFOA, PFOS, or any other PFAS chemical out of your water. In fact, boiling contaminated water will increase the concentration of these chemicals making the water more dangerous to consume.11
The only way to get PFAS out of your water is with a home filtration system such as a GAC or RO filter.10 (See #7 above)
Another option is consuming bottled water; however this can be costly and create a lot of waste. Due to the high environmental footprint of individual bottles of water, WMEAC recommends a water delivery service. Some options are:
9. How can I get my water tested?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved 30 labs across the country to test for PFAS using EPA protocol 537.1. One of these labs is located in Holland, Michigan.12
Additionally, there are other labs both in-state and out of state that are certified by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). Those EGLE-certified labs are equipped to analyze PFAS in drinking water by using the EPA 537.1 protocol. These labs will send you an at-home testing kit for you to collect water yourself and send it off to the lab to be analyzed. EGLE has a resource for homeowners on how to properly collect a water sample, which can be found here.
The list of EGLE-certified Michigan labs can be found here, and the list of out-of-state labs can be found here.
10. Can I get tested to see if I have PFAS in my blood?
Blood PFAS testing is not a common test that is offered by doctors or health departments.
However if you exhibit symptoms associated with PFAS exposure and want to know about PFAS blood levels in you or your children, you can speak with your doctor or healthcare provider.13
For guidance in interpreting the test results of babies and children specifically, you can contact your regional Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU). Note that PEHSU does not offer testing themselves.14
If you are or have lived in Belmont, Rockford, Cooper Township, or the City of Parchment in western Michigan you may be able to get your blood tested for PFAS free of charge by participating in a health study. Read the WMEAC blog post on these health studies to get more information and see if you may be eligible here.
11. What laws and regulations apply to PFAS?15
Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA): allows EPA to set MCLs for specific chemicals, the EPA has indicated that it would work to develop MCLs for PFOA and PFOS under the SWDA.
Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA): allows the EPA to require reporting, testing, and restrictions on chemicals that may pose a threat to human health. The TSCA also authorizes the EPA to limit the use of new chemicals or limit a new use for an existing chemical. The EPA uses the TSCA to limit and review the use of PFAS chemicals.
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA): PFAS may currently be addressed as CERCLA pollutants or contaminants. The EPA is evaluating listing PFOS and PFOA as CERCLA hazardous substances and developing a cleanup protocol for groundwater contaminated with PFOS and PFOA.
Clean Air Act (CAA): requires the EPA to regulate toxic air pollution and develop emission standards. The CAA applies to discharge of PFAS although there are no PFAS air emission standards at this time.
Toxics Release Inventory Program (TRI): requires annual reporting of environmental releases of harmful chemicals. The EPA finalized a rule requiring 172 PFAS chemicals be added to the list of substances that are subject to the TRI reporting requirements.
National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA): includes a number of actions the Department of Defense (DOD) must comply with, some of which have to do with PFAS. Some activities include remediation of PFAS-contaminated water, technology development to reduce PFAS exposure, and inter-agency collaboration on PFAS.
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA): gives the EPA authority to regulate hazardous waste management. PFAS is an emerging issue under this act. The EPA is initiating the process to add some PFAS chemicals as RCRA Hazardous Constituents.
Clean Water Act (CWA): allows EPA the authority to control water pollution and set water quality standards. Currently there are no PFAS standards, but the EPA lists PFAS as a topic for future CWA investigation and plans to review PFAS surface water discharges.
12. How did PFAS end up in the water in the Rockford/Plainfield township area?
The PFAS contamination in the Rockford/Plainfield Township area can be traced back to the Wolverine Worldwide shoemaking plant. Wolverine used 3M’s Scotchgard, a waterproofing agent, extensively in their shoe production. Scotchgard contains high levels of PFAS.
Production operations and improper waste dumping around the factory contaminated the water supply with PFAS. This has impacted groundwater, surface water, residential wells, the municipal water system, and soils around the dumpsites.16
13.What is Wolverine doing about it?
Wolverine has paid to install water filtration 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 also paying for a portion of a new water main system in Plainfield Township.17
Wolverine is also working on plans for clean-up at their various contamination sites.
14. What are the county and state doing about it?
The State is running a health study for residents of the Belmont/Rockford area and the City of parchment/Cooper Township to see how PFAS has affected their communities.
The State is testing private wells in the contaminated area to determine the level of PFAS in the water.
Kent County is building a new municipal water main system, which Wolverine Worldwide is paying over $69 million toward.17
The State granted $750,000 to Plainfield Township to update their water system with GAC filtration.18 (See #7 above)
The State developed the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) to coordinate state resources and address different PFAS concerns across Michigan.
15. Is the food from my garden or local farms safe to eat if near PFAS exposed areas?
It is advised not to eat food grown in an area where the groundwater and/or soils are contaminated with PFAS. Plants can take up PFAS and there are currently no standards for safe amounts of PFAS in crops.19
If you want to grow produce and live in an affected area it is advised to plant a garden in raised beds containing new soil, ensure roots do not extend past clean soil or into groundwater, and water with either rain or filtered water. For added protection wash produce in clean water before eating and peel and wash root vegetables in clean water before eating.20
16. How to know if my water or food source is at risk?
You can visit the MPART PFAS Sites and Areas of Interest webpage and explore the information. There is an interactive map you can use to see if there is a PFAS site near your home, there is also an interactive table you can search to see if there is a PFAS site in your area.21
You can contact an EGLE-certified lab and directly test your own water for PFAS.
You can contact your local water supplier, ask for information on PFAS in their drinking water, and request a copy of their Consumer Confidence Report
Avoid eating fish or game obtained in areas with PFAS contamination. The MPART PFAS in Fish and Wildlife website has more information on the types of fish you should not eat and the areas where you should avoid fishing and hunting for food.22
17. How do I protect and maintain my well?23,24
- Be aware of any contaminants in your area, including septic, livestock, or petroleum related.
- Inspect your wellhead and wellcap several times a year for cracks and have a registered well driller inspect your system every 10 years.
- Keep records of installation and repairs. Track water tests to see if anything changes over time.
- Practice safe chemical storage, keeping and use around your well.
- Do not use fertilizer or keep animals near the wellhead.
- Routinely check any underground tanks that may contain oil, gasoline, or fuel for cracks.
- Be aware of pooling or runoff water near your wellhead as it could contain contaminants.
18. How does a utility reduce or remove PFOA or PFOS from water?
PFOS and PFOA can be removed from water though Reverse Osmosis and/or Granulated Activated Carbon filters.10 (See #7 above)
19. Where are local affected areas?
You can explore local affected areas with this tool.
The interactive map was developed by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART).
20. Are the areas located at the end of the buffer zones an area for concern?
PFAS can travel though groundwater and may reach areas far outside the point of contamination. The only way to be sure of any PFAS contamination is to have your water tested. You can contact MDHHS to inquire about testing.
Additionally, you can check the MPART interactive map to see if your location is an area of interest.21
21. What can I do to get involved in this issue?
- Avoid items commonly contaminated with PFAS such as nonstick cookware, microwave popcorn, takeout food boxes, waterproof clothing, and stain-resistant furniture or carpet.
- Get involved in the water treatment and testing process if you can.
- Contact MI EGLE and your local government about your concerns.
- Write to your legislators encouraging them to pass legislation lowering PFAS concentration standards to newly passed EPA standards of near 0 ppt.
- Contact Wolverine Worldwide, 3M, and the EPA to encourage transparency of information through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
- Attend town hall, local, and state meetings in your area
- Become involved with coalitions, public interest groups or action councils who advocate for environmental justice.
22. What organizations can I be a part of that protect West Michigan’s environment and water?
The Great Lakes PFAS Action Network has compiled resources for groups all over Michigan.
On this site you can either search for your county or click on “Find Locations” in the upper right-hand corner to find environmental action groups near you.
23. Where to get more information?
- Wolverine Community Advisory Group (CAG) – Website | Facebook
- EPA in Michigan: Wolverine World Wide Tannery. URL: https://www.epa.gov/mi/wolverine-world-wide-tannery
- Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) URL: https://www.michigan.gov/pfasresponse
- MPART Groundwater Contamination in House Street Area, Belmont. URL: https://www.michigan.gov/pfasresponse/investigations/sites-aoi/kent-county/house-street-disposal-area
- 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
- Ahrens L. Polyfluoroalkyl compounds in the aquatic environment: a review of their occurrence and fate. J Environ Monit. 2011 Jan;13(1):20-31. doi: 10.1039/c0em00373e. Epub 2010 Oct 28. PMID: 21031178. URL: [View More]
- Polyfluorinated Compounds: Past, Present, and Future Andrew B. Lindstrom, Mark J. Strynar, and E. Laurence Libelo Environmental Science & Technology 2011 45 (19), 7954-7961 DOI: 10.1021/es2011622 URL: [View More]
- Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. PFAS 101. URL: [View More]
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. PFAS Chemical Exposure. URL: [View More]
- The Associated Press. “EPA Warns That Even Tiny Amounts of Chemicals Found in Drinking Water Pose Risks.” NPR, NPR, 15 June 2022 URL: [View More]
- Michigan PFAS Action Response Team. Maximum Contaminant Levels. URL: [View More]
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Potential health effects of PFAS chemicals. URL: [View More]
- New York State Department of Health. qandabloodtestingshort.pdf URL: [View More]
- Geary W. Olsen, Jean M. Burris, David J. Ehresman, John W. Froehlich, Andrew M. Seacat, John L. Butenhoff, and Larry R. Zobel. 2007. Half-Life of Serum Elimination of Perfluorooctanesulfonate,Perfluorohexanesulfonate, and Perfluorooctanoate in Retired Fluorochemical Production Workers. Environmental Health Perspectives 115:9 CID: https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.10009 URL: [View More]
- New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. In-Home Water Filtration Options. URL: [View More]
- State of Rhode Island Department of Health. PFAS Contamination of Water. URL: [View More]
- USEPA. Laboratories Approved by EPA to Support UCMR 5 (April 2022). URL: [View More]
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Talking to Your Doctor about Exposure to PFAS. URL: [View More]
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blood Testing for PFAS. URL: [View More]
- Interstate Technology Regulatory Council. 8 Basis of Regulations. URL: [View More]
- Wolverine Community Advisory Group. About Us. URL: [View More]
- Plainfield Charter Township. PFAS Settlement. URL: [View More]
- Plainfield Charter Township. GAC Filtration. URL: [View More]
- Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Fritz-Michigan-PFAS-Investigation.pdf URL: [View More]
- Michigan PFAS Action Response Team. PFAS in Crops, Gardening, and Food. URL: [View More]
- Michigan PFAS Action Response Team. PFAS Sites and Areas of Interest. URL: [View More]
- Michigan PFAS Action Response Team. PFAS in Fish and Wildlife. URL: [View More]
- Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Care for MiWell. URL: [View More]
- Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. Private residential well owners need to protect their drinking water and health with regular inspections, maintenance. URL: [View More]