Read the full article by Garrett Ellison (MLive)
“BELMONT, MI — There’s little value in getting your blood tested for PFAS contamination because doctors don’t know how to make clinical decisions with the results. Sandy Wynn-Stelt has heard doctors say that many, many times. She’s not buying it. Wynn-Stelt, a Belmont clinical psychologist who was widowed in 2016 when her husband died of liver cancer, has just survived her own bout with cancer. She lives next to an old toxic waste dump that poisoned the well water that she and her late husband, Joel Stelt, drank for 25 years. Her blood was tested shortly after the pollution was discovered and the results showed sky high PFAS levels.
Nonetheless, doctors almost missed the cancer growing in her thyroid just a few years later. ‘If it had not been for the blood testing I got; had it not been for the fact that I have a really good doctor, who is young and energetic and very comprehensive, then this would have been missed,’ said Wynn-Stelt.
A test in late 2017 found four different PFAS compounds in her blood serum that, combined, totaled 5 million parts-per-trillion (ppt) — about 750 times the national blood level average, according to the American Red Cross. Getting those results was no simple task. Attorneys representing her in a lawsuit against 3M, which manufactured the chemicals, and Wolverine World Wide, which dumped them into the ground in Kent County, paid $800 for the test — which insurance wouldn’t cover. Wynn-Stelt took the bloodwork to her Spectrum Health Medical Group physician and ‘we both kind of looked at each other and shrugged,’ she said. He consulted the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) website and decided to monitor her health for symptoms that epidemiological studies associate with PFAS exposure.
Earlier this year, she went in for a routine physical check-up with a dry, raspy cough. Typically, thyroid would be well down the list of potential checks. But studies have linked thyroid disease to PFAS exposure. Her doctor ordered an ultrasound. The test found a suspicious lymph node — but not the cancer itself. An endocrinologist told her there was nothing amiss, but Wynn-Stelt sought a second opinion. Eventually, doctors found the cancer, which had metastasized into her lymph nodes.
On Oct. 2, surgeons removed 24 lymph nodes and her thyroid. ‘It was just one of these really innocuous things,’ she said. ‘I can’t tell you how much I value having a doctor who really took those blood levels seriously. So many doctors don’t know what to do with that information, but I had one who really paid attention to it.’ ‘It just points out to me how crucial it is for people to know if they have this (in their blood) or not.’
Wynn-Stelt has become a well-known figure in national PFAS advocacy since the discovery of contamination in her drinking water, which tested in the 80,000-ppt range for the presence of compounds nicknamed ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t natural break down. She has testified in Washington, D.C. and Lansing about her PFAS experience. She spoke before a Congressional subcommittee last year, and a U.S. Senate committee in 2018. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency honored Wynn-Stelt with its national Citizen Excellence in Community Involvement Award this year in recognition for her work helping organize the Wolverine Community Advisory Group (CAG), which helps disseminate information about the contamination response effort around Kent County. Neighbors have nicknamed her the ‘Mayor of House Street,’ where the Wolverine World Wide dump that poisoned the area is located…”