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 https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas). The PFAS that are most studied are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesullfonic acid (PFOS).

 

 

White Pine Trail to be Re-Routed Through Downtown Rockford

Information kiosk and hand-wash station

White Pine Trail users will soon be re-routed around downtown excavation work planned for the trail and adjacent areas along Rum Creek.  Leather scraps, related tannery waste, contaminated soils, and river sediments will be removed by Wolverine Worldwide contractors as part of “Time-Critical” clean-up actions identified pursuant to a Unilateral Administrative Order issued on January 10 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Excavation work will include removal of any contaminated soils located within 3 feet of the trail surface.  Identified leather scraps and related debris along the trail will be removed to a minimum of 3 feet below grade.  Contaminated river sediments will also be removed from three specific locations – immediately upstream from the downtown canoe/kayak landing, a few yards downstream from Rum Creek at an undeveloped landing, and adjacent to the trail’s parking lot north of the Rockford Footwear Depot.

Work activities will require trail traffic to be re-routed from the parking lot mentioned above to the downtown canoe/kayak landing.  Information kiosks have been installed near these locations as part of the required work plan.  The kiosks are intended to display informational updates regarding trail usage as work commences.

Excavation traffic will be routed directly to North Main Street after temporary road surfaces are laid.  In order to reduce on-site traffic, trucks will be staged in the parking lot east of the former tannery location.  Temporary signs will be installed on North Main Street to warn motorists of the temporary truck entrance/crossing.  All excavation equipment will be regularly cleaned of “gross material” between excavation areas to reduce the chance of contaminated materials leaving the site.

On-lookers might be surprised by the substantial removal of trail vegetation during construction.  This will be required for adequate access to work areas.  However, the work plan includes plantings intended to restore the original character to affected areas as well as structural restoration and stabilization of the banks of both the Rogue River and Rum Creek.

Wolverine Worldwide is reportedly in the final stages of selecting their contractor to execute their work plan.  Work could start at the contractor’s earliest availability.  The permit required to re-route this section of trail has already been approved by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  Trail restoration will likely extend into the early part of next year.

Documents related to these activities (including the work plan) are available on a dedicated page at the EPA’s website (https://www.epa.gov/mi/wolverine-world-wide-tannery).  A CD-ROM disc has also been deposited at the reference desk of the Krause Memorial Library for use by individuals who do not have online access.

On-going community discussions about the pending trail closure and related activities are hosted by the Wolverine CAG at its monthly meetings.  The text of this article (in amended form) was submitted to the Rockford Squire earlier today to help fore-warn trail users of the impending trail closure.