Summer of 2020

Tree removal and water line installation along Chandler Drive
Water line connection to our home

by Jennifer Carney

2020. The year that has brought a lot of unexpected and unpleasant things for most of us. For me, one of those things was being connected to our local municipal water source. When we bought our home in Belmont 10 years ago, one of the main selling points for us was the fact that we would have all-natural, no cost, well water. The home we moved from was in downtown Rockford. We had just had an increase on our city water bill due to the Wolverine World Wide Tannery being removed. The explanation we received went something like, ”We are raising the cost of water service for residents to make up for the loss in contribution from the tannery.” I didn’t know how water systems worked. All I knew was that my water bill grew a great deal.

After being in my Belmont home for 7 years, I was told by a law firm that there was a highly contaminated dump site located near my home and my well water was likely contaminated. I’d seen the Erin Brockovich movie, and that was the extent of my understanding of water contamination. Never did I imagine something like that would happen here, or to me. Getting our water test results was bittersweet news. On one hand, I was obviously devastated that my contamination was high, and on the other hand I now knew the reason for all my unexplained health issues; Drinking poison affects everyone differently, but the consensus is it doesn’t do a body good.

After years of legal battling back and forth, Wolverine World Wide is liable to fund the connection of municipal water to homes they’ve negatively impacted due to their past actions. Construction for my street started in April of 2020. Like many, I was assigned to work from home due to COVID-19. What timing. I was able to witness the progress of tree and road removal, limited (or no) access in and out of my driveway, ditch digging, utility outages (many utility outages), water line laying, missed deliveries and trash pickups, dangerous surprises while driving down the road, holes in my yard, well removal, spotty road repaving, etc.

While it’s great that I now don’t have to worry about my well going out (because I wouldn’t be allowed to get a new one), and there will be no more testing and filter issues, I’ll now unfortunately have a water bill again and a bill for continued bottled water service. You may wonder why we would continue with bottled water since we have municipal water now.  Well, it’s hard to know exactly how you’d handle a situation until you’re in it. For us, it was being so blindsided by this entire situation at the hands of those previously in charge at DEQ, those at Wolverine World Wide and those at Plainfield Township who were aware of the toxic site. Yet they allowed me, my family, friends, and neighbors to ingest these chemicals; I simply don’t have much trust left.

I’ve learned so much the past 3 ½ years, a lot of which I honestly wish I was still naïve to. Learning about regulatory and legislative processes took a toll on me. I feel that business is not more important than public health, However business seems to rule, and our health ends up paying the price. We need to do better. There can be a balance. There is no reason that a business should cause their community and consumers pain and change their lives forever.

I urge everyone to take it upon themselves to learn what they can about the environment around them and speak up to make change to better our community. There is no doubt there are many areas in the country in the same situation that we are, and unfortunately, most are not yet realized. I will never forget sitting in a Senate hearing and listening to the Kentucky senator, after hearing about Michigan, say, “I’m glad we don’t have a PFAS issue in Kentucky”. That sticks with me because Kentucky wasn’t testing for PFAS. No testing would obviously lead to no problem detected. Again, we can do better.

I’m glad to finish this chapter; however, this isn’t the end of the story.

PFAS Cleanup Criteria Development Information Sessions

Session I: Monday 11/2/2020 3pm – 4pm

https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/3093176208320619023

Session II: Monday 11/16/2020 1pm – 2pm

https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/5971861477071630093

This informational meeting, hosted by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), is a follow-up to the first meeting on 11/2/2020 in which the process and rules for establishing cleanup criteria were discussed. In accordance with the state drinking water standards for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that became effective 8/3/2020, this second part of two sessions will present the results of the first part of the process. Attendees will see the calculations for generic cleanup criteria for groundwater that is used as drinking water.

Wolverine Response Activity Plans – Public Comment Period

On Tuesday, August 18th, EGLE will be holding a public meeting to discuss the Wolverine Groundwater Investigation Response Activity Plans for Areas 5, 6, 11 & 12, and 19. The .PDF below outlines the meeting, public comment period, and how to participate in them.

The details as to how to access the meeting can be found at www.Michigan.gov/belmont, alongside an overview of Michigan’s PFAS response.

If you wish to skip straight to registering for the meeting, click here.

Restoration Amid a Pandemic.

The past three months have been a whirlwind for us all. As somebody observing the PFAS crisis as an outsider, it has been a challenge to remind myself that much like the virus obstructing our lives, PFAS does not operate on our work schedule. The month of March was one of adjustment. Adjusting to the new virtual layout that allows the CAG to continue functioning. 

But running with the new Zoom video call meeting format, in April we continued to see updates from EGLE and the EPA. Both of the agencies continue to work in the area. At the April CAG meeting, we were given a presentation by EGLE’s Karen Vorce and Mark Worrall on the Wolven-Jewell source area, which is much more geologically complex than House Street or the Tannery sites making it more difficult to track the plume from it. 

The EPA shared updates on the restoration of the White Pine Trail, noting that the restoration will continue despite Governor Whitmer’s Stay Home Stay Safe order. The CAG reviewed the restoration plan, a discussion that had been planned for the cancelled March meeting. The specifics laid out in that plan (available on both the CAG website and EGLE’s) are not set in stone, so to speak, and the plant selection may be limited due to the pandemic. However, all plants chosen will still be native Michigan plants, and the trail is expected to be usable again in 1-2 months. It may not feel like a lot, but having a reminder that work is still being done to deal with the PFAS crisis is something I believe a lot of us needed to nurture our morale.

Also, please tune in this Thursday at 6:00pm (5/21/2020) to hear updates on the Department of Health and Human Services public health study, EGLE’s consent decree projects, and the water system in Plainfield Township.

Andrew Fishback, West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) Water Fellow