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Public meeting to address PFAS in water issue

Alexander Sinn • Feb 7, 2019 at 2:00 PM

ROBINSON TWP. — As Michigan’s new governor attempts to enact big changes to the state’s approach to drinking water issues, local residents are looking for answers.

Robinson Township residents recently called for a meeting with officials to address PFAS contamination that has been under investigation in the township since November 2018. Sampling of 66 wells in the area since October has turned up traces of the substances in 34 of them, but the source of contamination has not been identified.

Some township residents say officials could do more to inform and help out the community. 

A public meeting at the Ottawa County Fillmore Complex in West Olive at 5 p.m. Friday will bring together officials from the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Grand Haven school district, and Robinson Township. It will take place in the main conference room at the county administrative offices, 12220 Fillmore St.

The state environmental agency will lead the presentations and field questions. 

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will carry out a hydrogeological investigation in Robinson Township this month with hopes of determining the source of the contamination.

The Republican-led Michigan House voted Wednesday to reject Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order that would reshape the state environmental agency, saying the Democrat overstepped in seeking to eliminate new business-backed panels that were given a regulatory role under 2018 laws.

Whitmer also wants to make the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) a permanent body to continue investigation and mitigation of PFAS issues. Under Whitmer’s proposed changes, MPART would be responsible for recommending changes in Michigan law, as state legislators have not yet brought forth drinking water standards for the substances linked to cancer, thyroid disease and other health hazards.

The state-level squabble has not impacted Friday’s town hall meeting in West Olive.

Road to the town hall 

PFAS substances were first discovered in wells at Robinson Elementary School at levels that were above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion. Numerous wells in the area of 120th Avenue have been sampled, while others in the neighborhood are still wondering if their water is safe. 

Submitted questions will be addressed at Friday’s meeting, which pertain to getting more wells tested for PFAS and questions about the potential source of contamination, according to Kristina Wieghmink, the public information officer for the county health department.

DHHS officials have offered residents with PFAS contamination water filters for their faucets. Other residents have paid for testing and filters out of their own pockets. 

Officials initially put four possible sources for PFAS contamination on the table: firefighting foam, undocumented dump sites, biosolid applications and highway construction materials. None of these possibilities have been eliminated, but neither have strong links been drawn.

Foam containing PFAS has never been used in Robinson Township, officials said. PFAS chemicals have not been discovered in close proximity to biosolid applications or the M-231 construction project, nor have any dump sites or other materials been discovered.

While officials have not indicated any new information will be presented at Friday’s forum, it is the first community meeting during the investigation. Updates have been provided on county and state websites up to this point.

Township resident Karen Vess helped urge officials to arrange the meeting. Like many residents, her water was not selected for sampling for PFAS by the state agency, but her family has relied on bottled water since early November 2018.

Many township residents have communicated primarily through Facebook to stay up to date on the PFAS issue, but Vess said clearer communication from officials is needed.

“Everybody’s in the dark,” she said. “There’s been a gap of information somewhere along the road. We were ready to start our own meeting.”

State and township officials have been receptive to concerns after she reached out, Vess said. She hopes a meeting can clear up some long-lingering questions.

Vess said she would like to see more residential wells tested. It is unclear whether further residential well sampling is in the picture during the ongoing investigation, which will entail water and soil sampling to locate a potential source for the contamination. 

Questions can be submitted at this link

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