SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: January 10, 2020
SNIP: In the years before 2017, Sandy Wynn-Stelt and her husband had suspicions about the water they drew from a well on their House Street property in the Michigan town of Belmont. She attributed the bad taste to it being well water, but the “weird film” on their morning coffee was difficult to explain.
By June 2017, state officials alerted her that PFAS from a nearby, decades-old dump belonging to Wolverine World Wide, a shoe giant best known for the Hush Puppy brand, had contaminated their well.
Tests found shocking levels. The Environmental Protection Agency’s PFAS advisory water limit is 70 parts per trillion (ppt). Health officials found levels in the well as high as 90,000 ppt.
Wynn-Stelt told the Guardian she now suspects the PFAS-laden product Wolverine uses to make its shoes water and stain resistant was behind that weird film.
“I now know it was probably Scotchgard,” she said.
Wynn-Stelt and her neighbors in this small west Michigan community are among the PFAS crisis’s human toll – those suffering the horrors that await humans with too much of the toxic chemical in their bodies.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 5,000 fluorinated compounds dubbed “forever chemicals” because they don’t naturally break down and there’s no known way to destroy them. They’re found in everything from food packaging to clothing to eyeliner to firefighting foam. The chemicals are also strongly linked to cancer, low birth weight, autoimmune disorders, thyroid issues, and a range of other serious diseases.
By the time Wynn-Stelt learned of the contamination, it was too late. She and her husband, Joe Stelt, had been drinking dangerous levels of PFAS for years, and Stelt had died from liver cancer in March 2016. The level of PFAS in Wynn-Stelt’s blood soared to 750 times that of the national average. She now suffers from recurrent thyroid problems and developed gout, and more serious issues are likely. She has been left “scared to death” and overwhelmed.
As the chemicals gather around the planet, public health officials have found over 700 contaminated sites and waterways around the country, and the PFAS crisis’s breadth in coming into focus. Researchers recently identified dangerous levels in rain, and areas around military bases are regularly contaminated. By some estimates, 21 million Americans are drinking PFAS-contaminated water – in the fall, an environmental group found the chemicals in California and Kentucky’s water supplies.
However, no state has more contaminated sites than Michigan, although officials say that’s because the state is conducting more tests to look for PFAS. Biosolids contaminated with it were discovered two years ago in Lapeer, where a chrome plating facility discharged the chemicals into the Flint River. A few hours north in Oscoda, the air force is refusing to clean up contamination from a shuttered base, while officials have found contaminated wells at schools and daycare centers across the state.
Still, PFAS production and use is unabated in the state as Republicans in Michigan, Congress and the White House have successfully blocked stricter regulations.