PFAS, PFOS, PFOA chemicals, drinking water, and the Wolverine CAG

The opinions expressed in the following blog post belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Wolverine Community Advisory Group.

by Linda Goossen

I am writing this blog as a member of the Wolverine CAG. My husband and I moved to downtown Rockford back in 1975; we raised our four children here and still reside in the same house we moved into 46 years ago. I have a Ph.D. in Science Studies from WMU and am a retired Professor of Medical Laboratory Science from GVSU. Up until 2000 – for 25 years – our drinking water source was the Rogue River. Thus, the PFAS contamination in the Rogue River is of vital concern to me and has motivated me to join the Wolverine CAG.

In 2017, I learned that Rockford and North Kent County residents were exposed to PFAS* in a multitude of ways: in their drinking water, by eating fish from contaminated water, by working in facilities that used PFAS, in addition to the multitude of ways the general population is exposed to PFAS. Evidence shows that these PFAS are absorbed and can accumulate in the body and stay in the body for a long period of time. Studies have shown that PFOA and PFOS are related to increased cholesterol levels. There are also limited findings that the PFAS are related to low infant birth weights, deleterious effects on the immune system, cancer (PFOA), and thyroid hormone disruption (PFOS).

In the light of such serious findings, I believe that the function of the Wolverine CAG is for education and advocacy. As a health-care professional, I believe that both education and advocacy are necessary for the health of the community, whether it be your professional community or your residential community. People need to know what the science-based facts are about an issue. They also must have the ability and courage to advocate – that is, to convey their message and recommend a particular cause or policy to people or groups that can further their cause. For example, the Wolverine CAG works very closely with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

The wide distribution of PFAS in Rockford and North Kent County has taken its toll on many households, and there are additional households that may be affected. It is incumbent upon the CAG to research the further pollution of soil and drinking water and to inform the citizens of these areas. It is also necessary that the CAG continue to work with governmental agencies to enforce actions when PFAS levels are higher than the maximum amount allowed in drinking water (MCL). Last year members of the CAG and others were successful in advocating for lowering the Michigan MCLs.

The work of the Wolverine CAG is not finished. It is very likely that more sites of contamination will be found. Private drinking water wells remain at risk and residents have a right to know about the risk of PFAS contamination of their wells and thus their drinking water. Without the efforts of the citizen-members of the CAG, educating residents and advocating for safe drinking water, progress would be much slower – if at all.

*PFAS are Per- and polyflouroalkyl substances that are man-made and used in industrial and commercial processes, particularly in products that are stain-resistant, waterproof, or non-stick The PFAS that are most studied are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesullfonic acid (PFOS).