State tackles tainted drinking water problem in Rothbury.

December 10, 2020

State tackles tainted drinking water problem in Rothbury.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

ROTHBURY — PFAS contamination in private drinking water wells was found in the Greenlawn Mobile Home Court Park, at 2725 E. Forrest St., and more homes and businesses will be sampled in the surrounding area, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) — formerly the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

EGLE, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and District Health Department #10 (DHD #10) officials held a webinar about the investigation of the PFAS contamination Wednesday evening, Dec. 9. Residents were invited to attend and ask questions in a virtual townhall format.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of human-made chemicals that are found in a wide range of products used by consumers and industry.

During a statewide survey of public water supplies, PFAS were found in the mobile home park, which sparked the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) to test nearby residential wells.

The mobile home park is located next to the former Barber Steel foundry, which closed last year. The Rothbury factory, which operated as Kurdziel Iron Industries for decades, had been in existence since the 1930s and made carriages for freight, transit and passenger trains.

A total of 13 homes have been sampled so far, and four were found to have contamination levels exceeding state criteria. DHHS and DHD #10 are providing water filters to any homes sampled by the state with PFAS detection.

The sampling area was determined based on ground water flow information, said Peter Van Heest, environmental quality analyst with EGLE’s remediation and redevelopment division.

“Our sampling so far show that the PFAS contamination is not just limited to the mobile home court,” said Van Heest. “Unfortunately contamination is impacting a wider area.” More homes and businesses will be sampled, and testing will be focused on areas west and north of the site, he said. The sampling will likely take place later this winter or early next spring.

EGLE officials say there is presently no evidence linking the contamination to Barber Steel. “There is a chance the source or sources may never be known,” said Van Heest.

“Preliminary investigation currently shows no evidence that Barber Steel is responsible for the contamination,” said EGLE Environmental Engineer Christine Matlock.

“It will be quite a long time before solving this water problem,” said DHD #10 Director of Environmental Health Tom Reichard. “You’re probably going to have a filter for quite a while.”

The highest PFAS contamination level found in the sampling area was 25 PPT (parts per trillion), which is over three times higher than the 8 PPT criteria, said Van Heest. The highest contamination level for PFOS, which is a similar toxin, was measured at 44 — nearly triple the 16 PPT maximum contamination level (MCL).

Sampling is free for homeowners within the sampling boundary area and is done using outdoor spigots, said Van Heest.

“Any of the homes that tested out with above the MCL, we did provide bottled water for them,” said Reichard. “The bottled water was only for drinking and cooking purposes. We’re not concerned about the asorption through the skin. So we’re not concerned about showering and laundry.”

Dermal contact is not a concern with the PFAS levels in Rothbury, said Lisa Fischer, toxicologist with DHHS. “Inhalation from shower vapors is not a concern,” Fischer added.

The bottled water is a temporary condition until the filters are installed, Reichard said. A licensed plumber installs the filters that remove PFAS. Filters are installed in homes within the area that have any presence of PFAS — not just those with levels exceeding the MCL, he said. Eight homes have received filters so far.

“Filters are meant as a temporary solution until we can find a long-term solution to ensuring that the water coming out of your faucet is safe,” said Reichard.

A webinar participant asked if nearby Carlton Creek is impacted by the contamination. “Drinking water is our concern,” said Fischer, the toxicologist. “The creek may be sampled down the road.”

There are currently 151 locations in Michigan with PFAS contamination, said Abigail Hendershott, Grand Rapids district supervisor of EGLE’s remediation and redevelopment division.

The full webinar recording will be posted on YouTube by EGLE and on the MPART web page.

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