The Forever Chemicals — The Full Show | Great Lakes Now

Ground Water and Drinking Water - EPA Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS

PFAS Contamination in Drinking Water Sources

Great Lakes Now, Detroit Public TV

“PFAS” is short for per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances – a family of chemicals used to make common household products and waterproof clothing. They’re being found in an increasing number of drinking water sources, and research is only beginning to determine the health effects and what treatments there might be. Great Lakes Now reports on how some communities are coping and paying for the contaminations and cleanups.

Great Lakes Now explores what it means for families when “PFAS” chemicals contaminate drinking water.

VISIT, a Detroit Public Television initiative.

Video Transcript:

0:00when it came up that there was drinking

0:02water contamination in Belmont that news

0:06landed like a bomb it got the governor’s

0:09attention it’s a serious as a heart

0:11attack it truly is it killed my husband

0:14it took away my property values I have

0:16absolutely nothing left it’s taken

0:18everything from me they just like look

0:21you in the face and they say well it’s a

0:24risk like Oh can’t you can’t for sure

0:26say that these things give you health

0:28problems I just I can’t believe that I

0:30think that the reason that this is

0:33happening to us now is because of us



0:49this program is brought to you by the

0:52Fred a and Barbara M Erb Family

0:54Foundation Laurie and Tim Wadhams the

0:57Richard C Deveraux foundation for energy

0:59and environmental programs at Detroit

1:01Public Television the pulk Family Fund

1:04even jerry young the americana

1:07foundation Brook B Foundation and the

1:09ravaged program at the Newmark Graduate

1:11School of Journalism the Consumers

1:14Energy Foundation is committed to

1:16serving Michigan from preserving our

1:18state’s natural resources and sustaining

1:20our future to continuing business growth

1:22academic achievement and community


1:25learn more at consumers slash

1:27Foundation and viewers like you thank

1:31you the Teflon that makes your pans

1:34nonstick the gore-tex that makes your

1:37jacket waterproof but breathable and the

1:40Scotchgard that keeps your upholstery

1:42stain free all have one thing in common

1:45they were all created using pee Foss a

1:48family of chemicals that’s been widely

1:50used for decades

1:53Garret Ellison a reporter for M live

1:56Media Group has been reporting on P phos

1:59contamination in Rockford Michigan

2:01stemming from Scotchguard use by

2:03shoemaker Wolverine worldwide so we’re

2:07headed to the Wolverine tannery right

2:09now the tannery is where the P Phi issue

2:14in you know the Rockford Belmont area

2:17really started in 1958 Wolverine began

2:21buying 3m Scotchgard and applying it to

2:25its shoe leather for the hush puppies

2:28brand shoe introduce your family to the

2:31new song hush puppies were a huge

2:38success by 1963 one in 10 American

2:42adults owned a pair sales eventually

2:45expanded to over a hundred countries

2:46hush puppies wolverine became a global

2:50company and its heart was a tannery in

2:52downtown Rockford Michigan on the banks

2:55of the Rogue River today a walking trail

2:58runs between the tannery site and the

3:00river so you can see the Rogue River is

3:04you know right alongside the trail and

3:06it’s a pretty nice walk through this

3:08trail actually gets gets a lot of use

3:10wolverine operated here from 1908 till

3:13about 2009 when they closed the tannery

3:16and laid off the workforce they

3:18demolished it a couple years later

3:21there’s still a great deal of debris

3:25from when the tannery was operational if

3:27you just step off the trail in in many

3:30places along here there’s just piles of

3:33leather scrap and rubber scrap in the

3:37summer of 2017 MLive published Ellison’s

3:40photos of the discarded leather and

3:42rubber on the riverbank the scrap

3:44material has presumably been there for

3:46decades and the concern folks have

3:49expressed is that if it was treated

3:50leather treated with Scotchgard then

3:54sort of the constant runoff stormwater

3:57runoff could be kind of continuing to

3:59help spread some of those chemicals into

4:02the river here Great Lakes now requested

4:05interviews with

4:06Vereen worldwide officials but the

4:08company declined in addition to leather

4:12scrap the tannery produced truckloads of

4:15sludge waste after Wolverine started

4:17using Scotchgard in 1958 that sludge

4:20contained P foss and much of it was

4:22dumped at nearby sites like the House

4:25Street dump in Belmont right now we’re

4:31at the House Street dump site this is

4:33the 76 acre property where Wolverine and

4:36the 60s dumped all of its tannery sludge

4:38and which has subsequently caused a

4:42major pollution problem in Belmont area

4:45the test results that we’ve seen from

4:48wells in this area show that this is

4:51some of the highest concentration of

4:53contamination coming from the dump and

4:55right across the street our homes in

4:58fact that’s sandy wind stels home right

5:02there she’s sort of ground zero in terms

5:05of contamination and drinking water hers

5:08in the neighborhood is the worst sandy

5:16winds dealt and her husband Joel bought

5:17their secluded home on house Street in

5:201992 they’d been married about a year we

5:24walked on the back deck and saw the

5:25woods and fell in love with it and put

5:28an offer and I think that day we love


5:31we love bird-watching and hiking and all

5:34of that so this had a really peaceful

5:36air to it then in 2016

5:39Joel died of liver cancer at the age of


5:43the following year sandy got an

5:45unexpected visit from a pair of

5:47government workers Joel dine was just a

5:52horrible time in my life and so I would

5:55make myself go out and walk every day

5:56because getting out and exercising and

5:58all that it’s good for you and I

5:59remember coming back and seeing a state

6:01car go by and these two people got out

6:03and said we would like to test your

6:06groundwater and I remember saying oh I

6:08don’t have groundwater I have a well

6:10because that’s how little I knew about

6:12water and they explained to me we need

6:16to test the water from your well because

6:19we think there may be

6:20contamination in it there’s disagreement

6:23over what amount of pee Foss in drinking

6:26water is safe pee Foss is not covered by

6:28the Clean Water Act and there’s no

6:30federal limit on pee Foss in drinking

6:33water right now all that there is is a

6:36health advisory level and that’s sort of

6:39functioned as the de facto standard

6:42around the country that’s 70 parts per

6:45trillion for PF OS and PFOA but it’s a

6:49health advisory that only applies to two

6:51of the many different PFS compounds 70

6:55parts per trillion is is protective for

6:59someone to be drinking four liters of p

7:02FS impacted water through seventy years

7:05of their life toxicologists are fairly

7:07conservative when it comes to exposure

7:10assessments and assessing risk now

7:12that’s not to say that we won’t get

7:13updated toxicology and that maybe we’ll

7:16be adjusting epa lb justing that number

7:19some say an adjustment is overdue in

7:22june of 2018 a report from the agency

7:25for toxic substances and disease

7:27registry itself a part of the federal

7:29government suggested safe exposure

7:31levels a mere 10 to 15 percent of EPA’s

7:35so the EPA says 70 parts per trillion is

7:39safe for p fos and PFOA

7:42others say the level should be far lower

7:45the PF OS and PFOA and Sandy’s well

7:48tested at over 27,000 parts per trillion

7:52a group of government workers came to

7:55her house to give her the results and I

7:58remember the Health Department lady was

8:01saying things like

8:03well there seems to be some links to

8:06some diseases thyroid and gout and

8:08cancers and liver toxicity and I

8:14remember saying oh my god my husband

8:16just died a year ago a liver cancer and

8:19people really look worried them they

8:24left and I called my sister-in-law my

8:28husband’s sister cuz we would talk every

8:30night and she’s a nurse and she starts

8:33googling it and she bursts into tears

8:35and says oh my god that’s what killed

8:38Joel not long after that in August 2017

8:42mlife published garrett Ellison’s

8:44first articles about pea Foss in the

8:46Grand Rapids area when it came out that

8:49there was drinking water contamination

8:51in belmont near Wolverine’s how street

8:55dumped that news landed like a bomb it

9:02got the governor’s attention then

9:05Governor Rick Snyder reacted by creating

9:07the Michigan P Foss action response team

9:10or M part a temporary panel that led the

9:13effort to test every public water supply

9:16in the state there’s dozens of municipal

9:21systems that have it in the state about

9:241.4 million people are exposed to it in

9:27their drinking water through municipal

9:28supply in Michigan at some level but

9:33none of the municipal systems have P

9:36Foss levels like sandy Wynn stouts

9:38private wealth she and many of her

9:40neighbors eventually hired the Grand

9:42Rapids law firm Varnum law to sue

9:45Wolverine P Foss is what classified is

9:49an emerging contaminant there is in a

9:51mountain of research that has been done

9:53and there is a lot more that is being

9:56done every day there are new studies

9:57coming out all of the time and none of

10:00it is showing that P Foss is great is

10:02safe you should drink it and what you

10:04have in Sandy situation is you have very

10:06high concentrations of P v Center water

10:08for a very long time and they used their

10:11water for drinking

10:15sandi keeps wondering if the

10:17contaminated water from her well

10:19contributed to her husband’s death I

10:21think that’s the worst is that you said

10:25and wonder and you play back every time

10:27you said stop drinking so much pop you

10:30should drink water it’s better for you

10:32you wonder how much this affected is

10:36liver what we keep hearing from

10:38scientists there’s no clear definitive

10:41connection between p5 and disease

10:44process but it just makes you wonder the

10:51effects of PAS on human health are just

10:53beginning to be understood those who

10:56have been exposed are frustrated by the

10:58uncertainty and what we do know isn’t

11:01encouraging there are things that are

11:04certain it is certain that you should

11:07not drink P files it is certain that it

11:09is not good for you it is certain that

11:11it bioaccumulates it is certain that you

11:13will carry it around in your system

11:14forever once you have it in there those

11:16are not in dispute it is also certain on

11:21the the property value side that a house

11:23that has P Faust contamination is is

11:26worth less than one that doesn’t and so

11:28there may be arguments about matters of

11:30degree on these things but there really

11:33are no legitimate arguments that what

11:35has happened to the residents of

11:36Rockford is wrong and should have never

11:38happened the testing eventually showed

11:42the P Foss had spread far beyond house

11:44Street the contamination zone covers 25

11:47square miles in these West Michigan

11:50communities Seth and Tobin McNaughton

11:55live about half a mile from the dump

11:57site right here they’d lived in their

12:00house about three years when Tobin

12:02learned she was pregnant with their son

12:03Jack we’re really excited I went into

12:07that to go really well so I drank eight

12:10glasses of water a day

12:11I like kept track I ate really healthy

12:13in April of 2016 Jack was born he had an

12:17immense appetite for water he was

12:19thirsty all the time

12:20you know how to drink out of a sippy cup

12:22now how did that happen

12:24he was breastfed too he wasn’t getting

12:27everything he needed but it turns out he

12:29was getting lots of pee fuss at the same

12:31time when Jack was 16 months old an

12:34intern from Varnum law knocked on the

12:37McNaughton’s door and he had a letter

12:39saying you know there’s a landfill near

12:41by and there’s possible chemicals and

12:43would you like to attend this meeting

12:45and that’s how we found out is through

12:47lawyers not not the township not the EPA

12:50not the Kent County Health Department

12:53not reporters through lawyers test

12:59showed almost 2,000 parts per trillion

13:02of pee Foss in the McNaughton’s water

13:04nearly 30 times more than the EPA’s

13:07health advisory level of 70 parts per

13:09trillion as soon as they could Tobin and

13:11Seth had Jack’s blood tested the results

13:15four hundred eighty four thousand parts

13:18per trillion more than 100 times the

13:21national average he’s the highest level

13:24of pee faucets that we know right now a

13:25Betty child in the United States

13:27he’s gets sick Martin and his accent

13:30vaccinations haven’t worked what we know

13:32and this is true across the board

13:33whether it’s you know mercury or lead or

13:35some other contaminant is that children

13:37are the most susceptible because of

13:38their developing systems and so that’s

13:40also true in p5 one of the worst fears I

13:42have is that he’s going to have a

13:45shorter life due to some kind of cancer

13:47illness that that could be produced from

13:50the P Faust

13:51Seth himself has a stubbornly high

13:54cholesterol level which could be in

13:56effect of the P fossil but Tobin’s tests

13:59have come back okay she and Seth are

14:01trying to have another child but it

14:04hasn’t been easy I was pregnant in June

14:07and then I lost the baby at 10 weeks and

14:09that was very devastating we didn’t know

14:12why it happened you know there’s a lot

14:16of people that go through that and

14:18there’s could be various reasons but of

14:21course one of the things I go to is like

14:23is it the P fess and then we have

14:26another child on the way and I’m just

14:28hopeful that everything goes really well

14:29we don’t know what’s gonna happen she

14:32did have a miscarriage in between

14:34jaqen now so it’s yeah I don’t want to

14:38weather that again – so we don’t know

14:41but so far so so good

14:44Don Petrovic is the plant superintendent

14:47for the Plainfield Township water

14:49department which serves the communities

14:51around the house Street dump site we are

14:55now entering the filtration area for our

14:58West plan there’s four filters here they

15:01each can process two million gallons of

15:03water a day so that’s eight million

15:04gallons of water a day out of this room

15:06alone in 2013 years before the Wolverine

15:11contamination was reported EPA testing

15:14detected small amounts of pthose in

15:16plainfield townships municipal water at

15:20that time I didn’t even know what pee

15:21fuss was and most people didn’t we did

15:23not know we had in our water but it

15:25showed up the concentrations detected

15:28were still below the EPA’s health

15:30advisory level and the pee Foss was

15:33coming from just one of plane fields

15:34three well fields after shutting that

15:37well field down in 2015 the PAS

15:40concentration in Plainfield water

15:42dropped to single digits but then pee

15:44Foss started making the headlines we

15:49were one of the first municipalities or

15:51water systems to experience a

15:54significant public demand for filtration

15:57of pee files down to non-detect

16:00and you have to listen to the public in

16:02October of 2018 with some funds from the

16:05state of Michigan Plainfield Township

16:07was able to take steps to filter pee

16:10fuss out of their water plane fields

16:12kind of responding to public pressure in

16:14some ways went for activated carbon

16:18filtration and the state of Michigan

16:19gave them a $750,000 grant to install

16:24these very large very deep carbon filter

16:27beds the new carbon filters are part of

16:30a pilot program aimed at learning how

16:32municipal water systems can use granular

16:35activated carbon to eliminate pee Foss

16:38these filters

16:41get’em granular activated carbon this is

16:43part of our pilot project these are

16:45finished we’ve been using these since

16:48October clarified softened water is

16:51coming from our clarifiers and after its

16:53softened clarified goes out to the large

16:55filter area where it’s pumped down

16:57through the carbon and the carbon at

17:00this point it’s absorbing everything

17:02right now we can process 19 million

17:05gallons a day and a 24 hour period and

17:09take out PFS and we have taken it down

17:11to 90 tack but while Plainfield Township

17:14may be showing other water systems a

17:17process for eliminating Pia Foss they

17:20can’t show those municipalities how to

17:23pay for it with a $750,000 grant from

17:26the state that kept us from raising

17:29rates and we’re very happy about that

17:30and I’m sure our customers to be happy

17:32about that too you know we’re a pilot

17:34project and we’re trying to figure out

17:35how to get rid of this stuff and this

17:37information be available to other water

17:39systems but they may have to bind things

17:42out to pay for this because it’s not

17:44cheap plane fields improved filters

17:49don’t help sandy win stellt

17:51or the McNaughton’s because their houses

17:53aren’t on municipal water their wells

17:56are still contaminated but wolverine has

17:59taken steps to improve their drinking

18:01water when the contamination was

18:04discovered in the fall of 2017 there was

18:08a sort of a frenzied attempt to install

18:11filtration on as many homes in the

18:13Belmont area that had contamination not

18:17long after the contamination was

18:19discovered wolverine paid to install

18:21whole house filters for sandy winced out

18:24and many of her neighbors all right so

18:27i’m taking you into our furnace room

18:29here this is what I affectionately call

18:33Megatron my whole home filter this right

18:37here but it goes through each of these

18:39tanks these are full of granulated

18:42carbon and it goes through them in order

18:44and then comes out this one and is clean

18:47so every week they come and test it at

18:51the intake and then also

18:54at the exit so that we know that the

18:56water is empty of that as far as we can

18:59tell the whole house filters seem to be

19:02working very well we are still getting

19:04for those houses that have very high

19:08concentrations they’re still doing

19:09weekly sampling for those moderate

19:11concentrations are still doing monthly

19:13sampling and so we know from those

19:15monitoring events and that constant

19:18observation that the whole house filters

19:21are working to remove the PFS

19:23I think whole house filters we’ve never

19:26viewed at DEQ as a long-term solution

19:28the only long-term solution is getting

19:31municipal water to homes with

19:33contaminated Wells something Plainfield

19:35Township has already planned for but

19:37can’t easily afford

19:39we’ve spent $500,000 in engineering and

19:42surveying to bring municipal water to

19:46these houses but we need thirty million

19:48dollars and we don’t have thirty million


19:50so we asked Maureen for that and we’ve

19:53been in negotiations with Wolverine and

19:56they send in good faith yeah that sounds

19:59like a good deal but they recently

20:01backed off from that in December of 2018

20:04Wolverine said they wouldn’t pay unless

20:06scotchguard maker 3m contributed to so

20:10Plainfield Township and nearby Algoma

20:13Township filed a lawsuit which is

20:15currently unresolved in a statement

20:18Wolverine worldwide told Great Lakes now

20:21Wolverine has said from the start that

20:23we intend to be a part of developing

20:25water quality solutions for our

20:26community and our actions to ensure that

20:29all affected residents have access to

20:31clean water have backed up these words

20:33whether those solutions include the

20:35extension of municipal water to certain

20:38homes and whether Plainfield Township or

20:40a different entity would be the supplier

20:42however has not yet been determined

20:45sandy Winn stouts and her neighbors

20:48gather regularly to strategize and call

20:51for action one of the things we’re gonna

20:53do tonight is set up a meeting with the

20:55EPA and the DEQ to talk about our

20:58specific contamination site we really

21:00have become supports for each other I

21:02think that’s the bigger part of this is

21:04that you don’t feel quite as alone with


21:06it’s very therapeutic to get together

21:08with these ladies nobody’s gonna

21:10understand but somebody living with it

21:12every single day it has just helped me

21:14so much because you can talk to them and

21:16you can say anything and they all feel

21:19the same these friends were thrilled

21:23when a few weeks ago

21:24Tobin McNaughton told them she was

21:26pregnant again but today the situation

21:28has changed I went to the appointment

21:31and she said I’m sorry there’s there’s

21:34no heartbeat here and I said I just I

21:38said I can’t believe that I can’t

21:40believe that I’m just really really

21:42angry right now and I’ve cried so much I

21:46think this is why this is like this I

21:48think that the reason that this is

21:50happening to us now is because of Evo’s

21:54the issue of pfosten Tama nation extends

21:58far beyond Rockford and Belmont it has

22:01the attention of the federal government

22:03I’m appalled by the number of water

22:05crises that we have faced in September

22:08of 2018 senator Gary Peters of Michigan

22:10opened hearings entitled the federal

22:13role in the toxic P Foscam achill crisis

22:16Tobin McNaughton is also here her

22:19two-year-old son Jack this beautiful

22:23young boy has what may be the highest

22:26documented pee fast levels known for

22:29children at four hundred and eighty four

22:32thousand power parts per trillion

22:35he is just two years old one of the

22:38Senators goals action by the EPA good

22:41morning everyone

22:42five months after the hearings EPA

22:45Acting Administrator Andrew wheeler

22:47announced the agency’s long-awaited

22:50comprehensive nationwide PFOS action

22:53plan the action plan commits EPA to take

22:57important steps that will improve how we

22:59research monitor detect and address P

23:03Foss EPA is moving forward with the

23:06maximum containment level or MCL process

23:09outlined in the safe drinking water for

23:11P FOA and P Foss two of the most

23:13well-known and prevalent P Fosca Michals

23:16establishing a maximum contaminant level

23:19would set an enforceable limit on PFS in

23:22drinking water but senator Peters says

23:25the agency is moving too slowly the EPA

23:28needs to act much quicker in fact

23:30they’ve been basically kicking the can

23:32down the road and that’s unacceptable

23:34once we set that standard we can start

23:36to clean up in March of 2019

23:38he and a bipartisan group of senators

23:41introduced a bill requiring the EPA to

23:43declare pthose a hazardous substance

23:46eligible for cleanup funds under the

23:48Superfund law you can begin clean up and

23:51you can begin charging those companies

23:53that actually dump this material in a in

23:56a hazardous way or an irresponsible way

23:59that they are also responsible for

24:00cleaning up these sites we do have to

24:03still set a standard and we’re working

24:04on right now on legislation to set that

24:07standard if the EPA fails to act for

24:10those affected by PFS contamination that

24:13kind of action is overdue I need both

24:17the federal and the state government to

24:19hold the people responsible who have

24:21done this while they’re posting their

24:23biggest profits ever I know

24:26am stuck with property that isn’t worth

24:28a penny I couldn’t give this property

24:31away in good conscience because it’s so

24:34polluted and so I need them to take some

24:36responsibility and provide us with clean

24:39municipal water and to make us whole and

24:44to take care of all of that for not just

24:48me but for my neighbors

24:50Great Lakes now asked Wolverine

24:53worldwide for an interview the company

24:55responded with a written statement which

24:57reads in part Wolverine worldwide z’

25:00commitment to helping our friends family

25:02and neighbors address water quality

25:05issues in the area has never wavered

25:07from the start we’ve taken proactive

25:09aggressive actions to ensure all

25:11affected residents have access to safe

25:14drinking water for more and for the full

25:17text of Wolverine worldwide statement

25:19visit Great Lakes now org slash forever



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26:27to serving Michigan from preserving our

26:29state’s natural resources and sustaining

26:31our future to continuing business growth

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26:41thank you



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