Read the full article by Garret Ellison

“CASCADE TOWNSHIP, MI — Little new information about a plume of toxic chemicals at Gerald R. Ford International Airport was disclosed at an invite-only meeting on PFAS contamination that’s impacting the Thornapple River and nearby neighborhoods.

Although the airport began testing residential wells around its property in July, the airport would not provide details about what levels of contamination have been found, calling the data preliminary information that’s being kept confidential for privacy reasons.

The non-disclosure angered several of the 150-some residents at the meeting, held Wednesday evening, Sept. 5, at the Cascade Township Library.

‘I believe in privacy. But, in terms of transparency — you picked certain wells but you won’t let know what going on and how much PFAS is in those wells for privacy issues, and yet it affects all of us. Why?’ asked one man near the front. ‘What about our lives?’

The question was posed to airport facilities director Casey Ries, but it was answered by Abigail Hendershott, district manager for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality remediation division, who stepped up to say ‘that’s where the state comes in.’

Hendershott, who has been heavily involved in the PFAS investigation in northern Kent County around Wolverine World Wide dump sites, replied that 9 of nearly 30 wells tested northeast of the airport have results back, ranging from non-detect to 11 parts per trillion (ppt).

That 11-ppt detection does not include PFOS or PFOA, the only two PFAS chemicals which have a health advisory number (70-ppt) set by the Environmental Protection Agency. That puts it into the ‘Total PFAS’ category, where the state tracks the sum of all others PFAS compounds in any given sample.

It was the most detailed information offered at the meeting, which was not publicized, noticed or announced by either the state, Kent County, Cascade Township or the airport beforehand. Attendees said they were invited by Thornapple River neighborhood associations to hear presentations from regulators with DEQ and the Department of Health and Human Services.

A Thornapple River fish study ‘is on your way,’ Hendershott told the room, saying wild caught would be tested for PFAS from impoundments in Middleville, Cascade and Ada, and a caged fish study would be conducted at the Thornapple River mouth.

Hendershott said early well data looks “really good” and there’s some speculation that a thick layer of clay at the airport may be helping contain PFAS found in soil and groundwater at a former firefighting training area on the northeast corner of the property…

William Farrell, a DHHS toxicologist, followed what’s been standard procedure at other state-hosted or attended PFAS meetings by elaborating at length on how the EPA derived its advisory level of 70-ppt, which he called ‘the concentration which the human population can be exposed to daily without deleterious health effects.’ …

That EPA level is being actively challenged by activists and environmental groups with greater vigor following a draft report this summer by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) that recommends minimum risk levels for PFOS and PFOA up to 10 times lower than 70-ppt, which Michigan officials have settled on as an ‘action level’ for ‘decision-making’ purposes.

Farrell acknowledged that there’s ‘all kinds of confusion’ about safe PFAS levels in drinking water, showing a table with drinking water standards set by other states like Vermont, New Jersey and Minnesota, which are much lower than 70-ppt.

He said states are evaluating the same studies, but some are making ‘different assumptions’ about how much water people drink daily. In Minnesota — where the drinking water standard is 35-ppt for PFOA and 27-ppt for PFOS — Farrell said ‘they assume you will drink more water daily than EPA or Michigan does.’

Tom Bement, who lives on Little Harbor Drive near the airport, was a little perplexed by Farrell’s explanation of the toxicology behind differing safety thresholds. ‘They’re saying people in Minnesota drink double the amount of water that people in Michigan do?’

Bement was hoping to get more data about well testing in his neighborhood, even if it wasn’t disclosed by address. He found some of Ries’ presentation about previously published information on PFAS levels at the airport “misleading” after Ries only disclosed the total PFAS detections in groundwater when prompted to questioning.

Total PFAS near northern edge of the airport property by the railroad tracks has tested at 461-ppt. The highest combined PFOS and PFOA levels in that monitoring well sample was 54-ppt — which was the data point Ries disclosed in his presentation.

When asked why the airport wouldn’t simply disclose the total PFAS levels unprompted, spokesperson Tara Hernandez said state officials have only communicated concern to them about PFOS and PFOA.”