The number of people in Michigan who are learning their water supply is infected with “forever chemicals” is growing.
According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, at least 43 additional homeowners have been told their private wells exceed acceptable levels of two dangerous PFAS chemicals in the latest round of testing across the state.
Those numbers are updated regularly and focus on two types of PFAS: PFOS and PFOA, two chemicals that are being tracked by the DEQ and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. If groundwater is above 70 parts-per-trillion (ppt) it’s considered above the EPA’s health advisory level and is unfit for human consumption.
The new homes, and their wells, underscore the growing size and scope of the PFAS issue in Michigan. A number of private wells, and public water systems, are being tested as the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) monitors areas known to have issues. PFAS has been linked to liver damage, developmental problems and some forms of cancer.
The chemical is especially prevalent in areas that are known to have used firefighting foam loaded with PFAS, which is why Oscoda has been under the microscope after years of training at Wurtsmith Air Force Base.
“I went to the state personally when they first found this stuff,” said Matt Bellehumeur, who was notified this month that his home in Oscoda had combined levels of PFOS and PFOA above the EPA standard.
Bellehumeur, a 7 Action News employee, said he’s been concerned ever since news about the contamination of Wurtsmith Air Force Base became public knowledge. As recently as 2016, he was told that his water was safe to use but recent testings show that the groundwater where he lives has changed.
What is interesting about Bellehumeur’s home is that it’s not downriver from the base – and the Clark's Marsh area that was previously publicized as the area of concern. In fact, a letter from the MDHHS states, “the PFAS found in your well were most likely from another source, such as fire-fighting foam that was used on a structure or forest fire in your area.”
While the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS is known to be a source of possible groundwater contamination, Bellehumeur’s well water testing also brings to light the reality that some people outside of the 32 sites currently being tracked by state authorities could have PFAS levels above the 70-ppt threshold that the EPA considers dangerous.
The new testing, according to a letter from the MDHHS, shows that the levels are now above the level meaning that well water shouldn’t be used for a variety of things including drinking, cooking, making baby formula or brushing your teeth.
Since the water main doesn’t make it to some neighborhoods the state is providing alternatives for those residents who are found to have well-water, which has been contaminated by PFAS — in most cases that means the state setting up homeowners with carbon filtration systems that can filter harmful PFAS chemicals out of water, or in other cases a bottled water system.
As for Bellehumeur, his well is only the latest concern in the Oscoda area. He’s still working with the state to determine when arrangements can be made to ensure his water is safe.
Earlier this month, state health experts issued a ‘Do Not Eat’ advisory for deer near Wurtsmith AFB as a result of a surprising finding of a single deer near the base. You can learn more about the ongoing ‘Do Not Eat’ advisory, here.
Earlier this month the DEQ also issued a Notice of Violation to the U.S. Air Force for PFAS issues in the area of Clark’s Marsh. That Notice of Violation requires the USAF to submit a compliance plan by Nov. 19.