Read the full article by Garret Ellison
“GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Robert Delaney was profoundly shaken upon his 2010 discovery that PFAS contamination at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda was widespread and that, in all likelihood, the chemicals were infecting the wider Michigan ecosystem in ways that the state is only now starting to quantify.
Delaney, a veteran geologist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, testified before a U.S. Senate field hearing that he felt as if he were standing at the ‘edge of the abyss looking into hell with the weight of the world on my shoulders.’
Delaney’s testimony was the highlight of a two-hour hearing Tuesday, Nov. 13 in Grand Rapids convened by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who, sitting alone at a table onstage, sought answers about PFAS contamination in Michigan from two panels of witnesses, including Delaney, the director of Michigan’s PFAS response, and the head of the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)…
Witnesses included Sandy Wynn-Stelt, a Belmont widow living next to the Wolverine World Wide House Street dump, Rick Rediske, a GVSU Water Resources Institute professor who helped expose Wolverine’s use of PFAS chemicals, Adam London, administrative health officer with the Kent County Health Department, and Drew Youngedyke with the National Wildlife Federation.
Also testifying were Pat Breysse, head of the ATSDR, and Carol Isaacs, director of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team, or MPART, a task force created last November that’s coordinating contamination response at numerous locations around Michigan.
Cathy Stepp, administrator of the regional Environmental Protection Agency office in Chicago which oversees Michigan and the Great Lakes, was a no-show.
After the hearing, Peters said the EPA told him Stepp had a scheduling conflict, but ‘we were willing take anybody from the EPA qualified to talk about this,’ he said. ‘I’m sure they had folks qualified to be here, so I’m very disappointed they were not.’
‘Perhaps this is something the Trump Administration does not want to focus on at this time,’ Peters said. ‘But we’re going to make them focus on this.’…
Delaney testified he felt like ‘Chicken Little’ sending his ‘brainstorming’ report up the chain, but he felt compelled to highlight actions the state government could take, such as sampling and mapping PFAS levels in blood serum, checking food supplies, drinking water and surface waters for contamination and developing an in-home carbon filtration program.
‘I wanted to give home real ideas on what you could do,’ Delaney said. ‘One of the things I though we ought to focus on — and what MPART is doing a terrific job on — is focusing on exposure. It takes years and years to clean up sites … but to get out there and prevent people from drinking and eating these, that was something we could tackle right off the bat.’
Of the many recommend actions, only Delaney’s call for surface water testing was acted upon before last fall, when Snyder created the MPART following the revelation of severe PFAS contamination in Kent County caused by Wolverine tannery waste dumping.
The DEQ has repeatedly denied it ignored Delaney’s report.
Delaney said he didn’t get ‘any feedback’ from DEQ leadership about the report until this year.
In his testimony, Delaney stressed that he was speaking as a private citizen, not as a spokesperson for the DEQ. After the hearing, Delaney said the toxicology science was available at the time to justify taking the actions he recommended.
‘There was plenty of evidence these things were dangerous,’ he said, citing an early 2000s manufacturing phase-out of PFOS and PFOA, two types of individual PFAS compounds. Unfortunately, he said countries like China picked up production after domestic manufacturers stopped making the compounds. And laws like the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) don’t require that chemicals coming to market in the U.S. be proven safe beforehand.
‘We’ve kind of been on a downward spiral on protecting the people of America from chemicals,’ Delaney said. ‘The industry is producing so many new chemicals all the time. They’re fantastic chemicals. We use them for everything, but they’re not tested. We call it ‘whack-a-mole’ — where you get a couple of chemicals you’re concerned about, you start to regulate them, then five more pop-up because you need some chemical to replace them.’ “