8-month PFAS disclosure gap draws backlash for Michigan officials

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Don’t leave people in the dark about possible exposure to harmful chemicals, even if an investigation hasn’t provided all the answers.

The news was conveyed to state officials by members of a citizenship advisory board that harshly criticized the Michigan Department for the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) for waiting eight months to exclude homeowners from an investigation into toxic wells “forever.” “Chemicals to Report” near the Traverse City Airport.

“As soon as you investigate, I just want – and I think most people – want to know that there is an investigation,” said Sandy Wynn-Stelt of Belmont, who sits on EGLE’s Citizens Advisory Board for PFAS Responses.

“In order for this to go on for months and people not to be notified, I think it’s wrong,” said Wynn-Stelt, who experienced a similar delay in disclosing their home from the back in 2017 in the early stages of the investigation into drinking water pollution near their home Garbage dump on House Street from Wolverine World Wide. “It’s just ethical to do wrong.”

A February 28 report in the Traverse City Record-Eagle found that EGLE had identified more than 20 homes near the airport at risk of contamination last February, there was a response to the disclosure delay this month Northern Michigan state affected residents and began distributing bottled water and filters.

Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) officials have defended the disclosure loophole, making it a routine protocol to wait for investigative data before issuing public warnings.

“MPART has followed consistent contact / communication protocols for residents in communities across the state for several years,” wrote director Steve Sliver in an email to members of the civic council on March 8 who, through targeted criticism of the disclosure delay by the PFAS activist from Michigan was raised and attorney Tony Spaniola in a weekend email chain.

“Contacting potentially affected residents is triggered by the fact that we have real data on a source and EGLE is not initiating an investigation into a suspected source, which does not all turn into actual sources of contamination,” wrote Sliver, who later this month following his lead the team has been retiring for two years.

During the Citizen Advisory Workgroup (CAWG) online meeting on Tuesday March 9th, Sliver and incoming MPART officials began to temper this stance.

Abby Hendershot, who will lead MPART next month, said contacting affected homeowners in a study area, as well as millions of people using private wells for drinking water across Michigan, is “the next really big issue for the US.” becomes state. “

“How can we improve the existing public relations and communication process before, during and after an investigation?” asked Hendershot, who led the state response to the Wolverine global pollution investigation at EGLE’s Grand Rapids remediation office.

“How do we keep this so seamless that people feel they know what is going on and they have no reason to be afraid, but they are informed,” she said.

“But how do we then reach out to the larger community across the state to educate all residential well owners across the state of the responsibility of owning their own residential well and the potential problems that may arise out there, including whether they live on an old one? Farm or they live next to an abandoned dump or they live in downtown Traverse City, ”she said.

Tuesday’s meeting included comments from affected homeowners in the Pine Grove neighborhood, which is between Cherry Capitol Airport and East Grand Traverse Bay in the East Bay community. Urban water pipes run through the neighborhood, but some houses weren’t connected to them years ago when the pipes were laid.

Of the 18 homes tested, seven were above government safety thresholds for PFAS exposure. The concentrations of the single compound PFOS in the water of a house were 1,300 parts per trillion (ppt), which is more than 81 times the national drinking water limit of 16 ppt. The contamination is believed to have originated from AFFF chemical fire fighting foam used for training in the U.S. Coast Guard at the airport.

Municipal water connections are now taking place.

However, that hasn’t stopped local residents outraged at the delay in disclosure. Hillerie Rettelle said high levels of PFAS were found in her home and next door, where her neighbor has two young children.

“In eight months, she could have had the opportunity to protect her and prevent her from bathing and drinking – whatever, just one option,” said Rettelle.

Local officials also raised some concerns about the way the investigation was disclosed.

Dan Thorell, director of environmental health for the Grand Traverse County Health Department, suggested that the state develop a rating system for sites with high potential for PFAS contamination, such as: B. a regional airport, and should consider informing about it “before we have data”.

Thorell said part of the disclosure delay was related to the pandemic shortly after the investigation began. A gap of 8 months is “unusual”.

“I hope we don’t see things like this in other locations,” said Thorell. But “I think there has to be a better way and some thought about how we look at it.”

Bill Barnett, a member of Cadillac’s task force, called it “backwards” to inform a potentially responsible entity such as the airport of suspected pollution, but no potentially exposed people at the start of an investigation.

“If that’s our policy, I think it should be changed,” he said.

Wynn-Stelt, who works as a clinical psychologist in Kent County, gave an official presentation during the meeting on how officials should rethink some of their risk communication strategies and techniques when dealing with polluted communities.

“I always hear the comment, ‘We don’t want people to panic,” “she said. “I don’t know where this myth comes from that it will panic communities.”

“People panic when they feel that their life and family, property or wellbeing are at risk – and they have absolutely no control over the situation,” she said. “But when you understand things as best you can, you can plan and act accordingly.”

Wynn-Stelt said EGLE is not investigating because employees are bored.

“You are doing it because you have enough information to believe that people may be contaminated,” she said. “I really believe it is your responsibility to let people know.”

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