Health officials warn Rockford/Belmont residents about self-testing well water

KENT COUNTY, Mich. — Kent County health officials are warning people in the Belmont/Rockford area to be careful before buying a test kit for their wells located near former Wolverine Worldwide dump sites.

In the 1960s, Wolverine Worldwide operated a dump site in Belmont off House Street. Chemicals from leather tanning operations at the dump site seeped into the well water and tested positive in some homes in the area. More than 600 homes’ water supplies are being tested for Per- and Polyfluoroallkyl substances, also known as PFAs or PFCs.

The testing for these substances is extensive, says Steve Kelso, marketing and communications director for the Kent County Health Department.

“We know testing for this PFAs substance is very difficult. We know it has to be sent away for labs. So if someone comes to your house and says, ‘I can test it right here, I can turn this result back to you right here, right now,’ it’s not true, they can’t turn those tests that quickly,” Kelso said.

PFAs are being tested in the parts-per-trillion, so specialized equipment is needed to get an accurate result. The health department and MDEQ says there’s only more than a dozen labs in the country equipped for these tests. Kelso added that many of these labs are backed up due to the increase in tests coming in, so it can take weeks for results to come back.

“We’re talking about testing for stuff that parts-per-trillion. Parts-per-trillion is like one second every 26,500 years,” Kelso said. “Really tiny.”

The county doesn’t encourage people to do their own testing because of how easy it is to contaminate the sample. PFAs are found in many common items such as cleaning supplies, stain-resistant clothing, and fast food containers. Kelso says because of how common it is it’s easy to generate false positives.

“Because it is so cumbersome and so expensive and so difficult to do, and really easy to mess up, we’re not really encouraging people to do their own testing. It’s that complicated.”

The health department has a web page dedicated to tracking the progress of the contaminated water investigation. Though they’re not overseeing the investigation – MDEQ is handling that – they have a list of resources and issue a weekly newsletter.

Kelso says he doesn’t believe there have been any reports made yet about unscrupulous well testers, however he advises anyone who feels they’ve been taken advantage of to call the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.

“We don’t want to see anyone get ripped off, especially at a time like this. That’s just wrong,” Kelso said. 

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