Emails: Michigan DEQ didn’t immediately act on water warning
BELMONT, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality may not have immediately acted on a warning regarding groundwater contaminated by waste from a footwear manufacturer, according to department emails.
State geologist Mark Worrall told the department in April that homes south of Wolverine World Wide’s sludge dump in Belmont should be tested for toxic chemicals, according to emails obtained by The Grand Rapids Press through the Freedom of Information Act.
Wolverine for years buried tannery sludge containing perfluorinated chemicals at the site, and the department tested homes to the northeast of the site in April. But the emails indicate the department didn’t begin testing homes in the south until July, and many homes weren’t looked at until September.
Studies suggest the chemicals affect fetal development, disrupt hormonal functions, damage fertility and immune systems, and boost the risk of cancer.
Worrall recommended testing more than 50 homes south of the dumpsite in April. Seth McNaughton lives in one of those homes with his 2-year-old son, Jack, though their home wasn’t tested until September.
Blood tests showed the boy had a level of 484,000-parts per trillion of perfluorinated chemicals. The EPA’s health advisory level for PFOS and PFOA is 70 parts per trillion. More than 100 wells have tested above that level so far.
McNaughton said his son would’ve had much less in his blood if the PFAS threat had been disclosed earlier.
The department’s slow-moving investigation accelerated when the Michigan National Guard found elevated levels of chemicals in well water in May.
Worrall’s supervisor, David O’Donnell, said he was slowed at the time because of problems with Wolverine attorneys and staff vacancies at the department’s Grand Rapids district office.
“I don’t want to overpromise on getting investigations done,” he told the newspaper regarding the investigation’s timeline.