Read the full article by Paula Gardner (MLive)
“There’s more to managing PFAS contamination than identifying it in drinking water. Scientists are working on understanding still more adverse health effects from the chemicals, while governments determine policy. Litigation is playing a part in paying for solutions.
Yet woven into every instance of poisoned water are people.
The people who drank that water wonder about their risks. They worry about their health. They fear for their families and can’t get answers about how long they may have consumed it. There are at least 1.9 million of them in Michigan, so far, with at least as many people living in homes where wells haven’t been tested.
Still more worry about their neighbors, the water where they swim and fish, and what contamination will mean for the future.
Here are some of their stories…
Tracy Breihof lives in Belmont, in a home she and her husband built in 1993. On a regular map, it looks like a pretty, secluded cul-de-sac. On a PFAS plume map that details contamination across that community north of Grand Rapids, the location seems to be in a safe zone of non-detection.
But Breihof remembers the sandy soil from when their well was dug. She’s learned that PFAS travels more quickly through that. And she wonders whether, over the years, the chemicals that now prompt the bright red signals of alarm at well after well just a half mile north once, too, were in her own drinking water.
She wonders if PFAS played a role in her husband’s death from kidney cancer. And if it contributed to her battle with thyroid cancer.
‘It’s way too coincidental,’ she said, describing how she learned about those diseases’ connections to PFAS…
Breihof wanted to be a part of litigation against Wolverine. But she said she was told that there wasn’t enough information to prove a connection.
She remembers Tom, her husband, as super fit. A man who didn’t eat sugar and didn’t eat red meat. Who drank 80 ounces of water a day.
‘His doctors were stunned when he got sick,’ she said. The diagnosis came Jan. 22, 2016. He died Sept. 22 of that year, after what started out as a baseball-size mass on a kidney grew and then spread across his abdomen. Extensive surgery didn’t help him, not like 10 years earlier when her own thyroid surgery kept her alive…
Bruce Sagan and Sally Chandler knew for years that a 1,4 dioxane plume was moving toward the Huron River. While that contaminant still hadn’t reached the source of 85 percent of Ann Arbor’s drinking water, city residents learned in 2018 that PFAS was a looming concern.
Sagan and Chandler looked at the city’s PFAS updates on its webpage, which it created in late 2018 as residents sought answers for the contamination first identified in 2016.
The couple discussed options, and decided to take their own action, even amid assurances that city officials were monitoring and attempting to reduce the toxins. The total PFAS peak reached 88 parts per trillion for the city of about 100,000…
As Sagan learned about PFAS, he saw its links to thyroid disease. That hit close to home, he said, as he recovered from thyroid cancer over the last summer…
‘You just assume the city is doing its job and giving you drinkable water,’ Sagan said. ‘You just can’t make that assumption anymore. Maybe you never could.’ …
Gary Pettyjohn wonders why scientists debate acceptable levels of PFAS in drinking water.
‘’Acceptable’ is an oxymoron in my mind,’ he said. ‘Zero is acceptable.’
That’s his conclusion after months of research into the chemicals, an effort that’s uncovering today’s information and sparking memories of his childhood.
Pettyjohn grew up in three homes in Grayling, on streets where an active investigation since 2017 already has uncovered more than 230 homes with wells affected by the chemicals.
One of his former houses is within a zone where PFAS has tested at up to 1,000 parts per trillion. And it’s a few hundred feet from the area where a handful of homes are over that level. Another of his former homes is on the edge of yet another cluster of wells.
But he gets few answers to his questions about what that means for him today. The state won’t give him well results if his family no longer owns the house. So he’s using his research skills and recalling college science courses, and trying to make some judgments on his own…
He keeps digging in his spare time. Documents on the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team website. Files from Minnesota’s lawsuit against 3M. The C8 study in West Virginia. Scientific journals, even when he can only see the abstract.
‘An activist is born,’ said Rita Pettyjohn, his wife, as Gary details another finding…
And they’ve worried about family health conditions and their potential ties to chemicals. They range from childhood allergies to food coloring to liver tumors that, in part, were blamed for the death of Gary’s father. His mom’s cancer and his own gallbladder and uric acid issues seem too close to published connections to some PFAS…
Max Evans of Ypsilanti drives 17 miles one way to fish at Barton Pond in Ann Arbor.
It’s a peaceful place, where the mansions of Barton Hills dot one shoreline of the 315-acre waterway and a walking trail makes the most of the shorelines both up- and downstream of the dam.
By fall 2019, few signs of PFAS were in this water. A year earlier, piles of foam at the base of the dam spoke to the high levels of PFOS making their way downstream to Lake Erie.
But Evans, 69, would be here either way, he said. It’s something he’s done since 1972. ‘I know this lake pretty good,’ he said.
The fish have changed over time. A tiny ‘pumpkin seed’ bit a butter worm at the end of Evans’ hook, then he threw it back into the water. Everything he catches now seems little. He can’t help but wonder if the foam and chemicals in the water play a part in it…
Cathy Wusterbarth wants her blood tested for PFAS.
The Oscoda-area resident is now a statewide advocate for concerns about chemical contamination. She’s met with Congress and attended Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s inauguration. She pushes the military for cleanup at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base near the shore of Lake Huron. And she’s a leader in a citizen action group in her hometown.
What drives her: Memories of her teen-age life-guarding days in Van Etten Lake and, just a few years later, her bout with breast cancer.
Learning about the PFAS that’s pervasive on the closed base – and formerly in its water system – raised her suspicions that her health conditions as an adult may be connected to her exposure.
And she worries about her friends and neighbors on wells as the contamination still spreads, wondering if she’s missing a pattern of disease that would make public officials take notice and act. She knows everyone has some in their blood, which is concerning on its own. Blood testing, she thinks, could be a clue toward making health care decisions. And it would answer one question among so many that will go unanswered…
People could get their own test, which would cost about $800. The results would allow an individual to compare their blood PFAS levels from a few of the thousands in circulation to national averages. Those averages, according to national research concluded in 2012: 6.3 parts-per-billion of PFOS, 2.1 parts-per-billion of PFOA, 1.3 parts-per-billion of PFHxS.
While clinicians and researchers don’t prioritize regular blood testing for PFAS, citizen groups are making it a priority. ‘I believe people need to know,’ Wusterbarth said. ‘Other communities in the U.S. are saying the same