Read the full article by Garret Ellison

“ROCKFORD, MI — Health officials say they’re struggling to get enough Rockford area residents to participate in a study on exposure to PFAS through drinking water in Kent County.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) says only about half the necessary blood samples have been drawn in the state’s first ever ‘exposure assessment‘ for PFAS, which began five months ago with the goal of getting 800 participants.

State scientists are trying to compare national averages for PFAS in blood and urine against those who drank groundwater contaminated by Wolverine World Wide tannery waste, which was tainted with 3M Scotchgard chemicals used to waterproof shoe leather.

This prerequisite to a wider epidemiological study is needed before scientists could begin establishing potential links between exposure levels and specific diseases — assuming the effort gets that far. Since testing began Dec. 8, only 414 samples have been taken.

Local health officials are frustrated by the turnout and concerned about the scientific integrity of the exposure assessment if the required number of blood samples isn’t obtained…

‘We want this assessment to be as robust as possible,’ said Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for the DHHS. ‘If the need to continue clinics into the future is necessary, we will do so.’

On Wednesday, DHHS issued a press release reminding people about the exposure study. The state says it has sent letters, made calls and knocked on doors of those who are eligible but haven’t yet participated.

On a community-wide scale, Sutfin says DHHS will set up booths at the Rockford Farmer’s Market and Little League baseball fields. It also plans a press conference and some social media push to ‘perhaps call their attention to the benefit of participating as a way to contribute to improved scientific understanding of PFAS exposures.’

‘There is also a possibility that we may extend invitations to additional affected homes in the area until we reach the minimum number of participants needed for the assessment,’ she said.

Of the roughly 400 participants so far, DHHS says 179 of them are from homes with water contaminated below the Environmental Protection Agency health advisory level of 70 parts-per-trillion (ppt) for the individual compounds PFOS and PFOA…

Karla Black, emergency preparedness coordinator at the county health department, said she’s heard through the grapevine that some eligible participants are simply fatigued by the disruption that PFAS contamination has had on their lives.

‘PFAS has been ruling their lives for the last two years at this point.’

‘I get it, from that fatigue standpoint,’ Black said. ‘I think some people just want to move on. On the other hand, I was surprised. I thought people would jump right in.’

Black said it’s possible some people are frustrated by a perceived lack of personal clinical utility that comes from getting a blood test. Michigan health authorities say results are useful a population level, but knowing your own blood PFAS level doesn’t help much at the doctor’s office because physicians don’t know yet how to interpret the results.

Rick Rediske, an environmental chemist at Grand Valley State University who is helping the EPA develop a community advisory group, thinks a lack of word-of-mouth has hampered the testing effort.

‘The state has certainly described what the goals are, but I don’t think there’s been enough neighborhood conversation,’ he said. More resident meetings would help. ‘I don’t think people fully understand what the purpose is. There certainly is some fatigue about PFAS, but I think people are just wondering “why should I participate?” ‘

Rediske suggested that misperceptions about the study design, such as why some households were selected and not others, may be causing some suspicion among participants. He theorized that, in addition to a sense of fatigue with the contamination, some folks may be worried that having a blood PFAS test might cause issues with their health insurance.

Those worries are unfounded, he said. Nevertheless, ‘I think some people don’t want that data point about them in a government database.’

Aaron Phelps, an attorney at Varnum who represents hundreds of local residents suing Wolverine, said the firm has encouraged its clients to participate. ‘There’s really no reason not to,’ he said…

Rediske and Black say the assessment is vital to obtaining population-scale information about the impact of exposure.

Much of what’s known about diseases linked to PFAS comes from a study of people who drank water contaminated by PFOA from a DuPont factory in West Virginia. That effort, known as the C8 Health Project, took 13 months starting in 2005 and tested the blood of 69,000 people.

The study established probable links between exposure and ailments like testicular and kidney cancer, thyroid disease, pregnancy hypertension and high cholesterol.

The C8 study study cost about $35 million, which came from a class action lawsuit settlement with DuPont. Participants were paid $150 for completing a health survey and $250 for a blood sample. The northern Kent County exposure assessment is a $2.4 million effort funded by the state of Michigan and participation is voluntary…”