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Homes near Robinson Elementary to be tested for PFAS

Alexander Sinn • Oct 31, 2018 at 1:58 PM

ROBINSON TWP. — Results of a second sampling for PFAS at Robinson Elementary School, released Wednesday, confirmed levels of contamination above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lifetime health advisory limit. 

A combined 119 parts per trillion (ppt) of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) were detected in the follow-up sampling effort after a combined 110 ppt in the school’s drinking water from a well was announced Monday. A total of 171 ppt was detected in the new sampling conducted Tuesday — higher than the 144 total ppt initially detected. 

The EPA’s limit that touches off a health advisory is 70 ppt for PFOA and PFOS combined. 

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, in conjunction with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, plans to sample 25 properties in the northeast vicinity of the school, which officials determined was the direction of groundwater flow. 

Sampling conducted at nearby Little Hands Daycare and the Robinson Township Fire Department were below the EPA limit. A combined level of 4 ppt PFOA and PFOS was detected at the day care, with a total PFAS level of 32 ppt. The combined level at the fire department was 5 ppt and 7 total PFAS. 

The source of the contamination is being investigated. 

Emily Stef has lived in Robinson Township — about 2 miles from Robinson Elementary School — since 2003. Her two sons, Henry and Theo, attend the school and, when Stef was made aware of the contamination of the school’s water Monday, the family immediately stocked up on bottled water and stopped drinking from the tap at their home. 

Stef was well aware of the impacts of PFAS contamination at sites across Michigan. She and her family travel to Rockford regularly to go fishing, and when high levels of PFAS were discovered in that area in 2017, they stopped drinking the water at restaurants.

At home, Stef said she has had her own well water tested multiple times for other chemicals, but PFAS is new on many people's radars.

“You’re blindsided by this,” she said. “You don’t think it’s going to happen here, but, when it does, you’re shocked and scared.”

Stef said she was happy with the school’s immediate response and Michigan’s statewide sampling efforts, which revealed the contamination at Robinson Elementary School.

The next step is to buy a PFAS filter for her home, Stef said, but the hardware is expensive. She suspects other wells in the area may also be contaminated from whatever unknown source has impacted the school, and hopes more residences and businesses are tested. 

“Out here, everybody has wells,” she said. “I figured if they found it at the school, what is the likelihood that a few miles away it wouldn’t be in our water?”

Robinson Elementary School has been stocked with bottled water since Monday, and its staff and students have stopped drinking tap water and using it for food preparation. Grand Haven Area Public Schools Superintendent Andy Ingall said fourth-graders have begun a collection effort to recycle the used water bottles and, under the circumstances, school activities are proceeding normally. 

PFAS refers to a large group of chemical compounds linked in human studies to forms of cancer, thyroid disease, elevated cholesterol and other diseases. Known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS do not break down in the environment, and are used commonly in firefighting foam, fast-food wrappers, nonstick cookware and water repellent materials.

Guidance for homeowners to receive testing of their private well water is available on the DEQ website. 

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