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PFAS Response

The Ottawa County Department of Public Health (OCDPH) continues to work with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE, formerly MDEQ), Grand Haven Area Public Schools (GHAPS) and Robinson Township on a public health action plan. A plan was developed in response to the Statewide Testing Initiative where EGLE identified Per- and Poly- Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in the water supply well for Robinson Elementary School in Grand Haven. The school’s water supply well tested above the EPA Health Advisory Level (LHA) of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOS and PFOA combined. Immediately upon receiving the test results, GHAPS shut off all water fountains and provided the students and staff with bottled water for drinking and cooking. The school continues to operate on bottled water, and is working on system design for an on-site water filtration system. Additionally, Robinson Township officials confirmed that similar safety steps have been taken at Township buildings in the area.

The results of the school’s water supply well led to establishing the 120th Avenue PFAS Study Area in Robinson Township and testing sixty-six drinking water wells, one of which exceeded 70 ppt for PFOS and PFOA combined. Every resident who had their drinking water wells tested by EGLE and had any detection of PFAS were offered and had installed a point of use water filter. In response to the elevated levels of PFAS discovered in the study area private wells, EGLE conducted a hydrogeologic investigation. The study was conducted primarily in the area of Robinson Elementary School and the Robinson Township Fire Department (RTFD) and Township Hall to further understand the presence of PFAS in the environment and to potentially identify what caused the PFAS contamination. Soil and groundwater testing identified PFAS at the school and the RTFD property, which indicates a source of PFAS was likely historically released on both properties. However, a distinct source of PFAS has not yet been identified. EGLE will continue to work with Robinson Township and GHAPS to fully delineate the extent of PFAS in groundwater.

Details of the investigation results are provided below in the timeline, followed by a map showing investigation locations and highlighting sample locations in different colors based on sample results.

Meanwhile, the school will continue to provide bottled water until a water filtration system is in place. Residences within the study area that had any PFAS detection in drinking water wells are using bottled or filtered water. With regard to PFAS in drinking water wells, drinking is the primary way PFAS can get into the body. Washing hands and other skin contact is not considered a health concern as PFAS does not move easily through the skin. If you are concerned about PFAS exposure, please contact the MDHHS toxicology hotline at 1-800-648- 6942 or visit www.michigan.gov/pfasresponse. Additional information about PFAS exposure and health can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas.

Timeline

September 18, 2018
The EGLE collected water samples from the Northwest Ottawa County Water System and the Robinson Elementary School’s drinking water well.

October 19, 2018
Northwest Ottawa County Water System test results received and were non-detect for PFOS+PFOA and non-detect for Total PFAS in both the untreated water and the treated drinking water.

October 29, 2018
Robinson Elementary School test results received and were above the LHA of 70 ppt for PFOS+PFOA:
PFOS+PFOA = 110 ppt
Total PFAS = 144 ppt

Response: The EGLE immediately informed the MDHHS, OCDPH and Governor’s Office; and within hours had a call set up to discuss the results with officials from the OCDPH, Robinson Township and GHAPS. School leaders shared the information within the school and shut-off access to its drinking well water. They gave bottled water to students and staff for drinking and cooking that was supplied by the Ottawa County Sheriff's Emergency Management Division. Before school was out for the day, the GHAPS Superintendent Andrew Ingall developed a letter to send home with the children. By late afternoon, the EGLE’s contractor, AECOM, collected a second (confirmation) sample at the school; as well as a sample from a nearby fire station and a daycare center adjacent to the school. The EGLE expedited the results. In addition, EGLE had already begun investigating historic records for potential sources in the area. The EGLE also partnered with the Michigan Geological Survey to obtain information on groundwater flow direction in the area. All of this information will be used to determine next steps for the investigation.

October 31, 2018
Robinson Elementary School second test results received and were still above the LHA of 70 ppt for PFOS+PFOA:

PFOS+PFOA = 119 ppt
Total PFAS = 171 ppt

The other well water samples taken on October 29 were far below the LHA of 70 ppt.

Robinson Township Fire Station results:
PFOS+PFOA = 5 ppt
Total PFAS = 7 ppt

Daycare center results:
PFOS+PFOA = 4 ppt
Total PFAS = 32 ppt

Response: EGLE preliminarily identified the direction of groundwater flow in the area to the north/northeast. The available information also showed that the Robinson Elementary School drinking water well draws from a sandy, shallow aquifer. Based on the geology and groundwater flow direction, approximately 25 private drinking water wells will be sampled. Ottawa County health officials, along with school district and township leaders, continue to work closely with the EGLE and MDHHS on the next steps.

November 2 & 5, 2018
The EGLE collected cautionary samples at 28 locations: 23 residential wells, township park irrigation well, township hall/fire department, an adjacent daycare center, a church, and the school irrigation well and wellhead to rule out internal plumbing as a potential source. The Phase I sample results are expected in 3-4 weeks for this 120th Avenue PFAS Study Area.

November 27, 2018
The 120th Avenue PFAS Study Area test results received. The adjacent daycare center drinking water tested below 70 ppt for PFOS+PFOA during both sampling events (10/29/2018 sample: PFOS+PFOA=4 ppt and Total PFAS=32 ppt; 11/02/2018 sample: PFOS+PFOA=non-detect and Total PFAS=23 ppt). Two locations within the study area had levels of PFOS+PFOA above the LHA of 70 ppt: Robinson Elementary School and one residential home.

Type of Result Total Wells Sampled
PFOS+PFOA > 70 ppt 2
PFOS+PFOA Detected 12
PFOS+PFOA Not Detected 17
Total PFAS > 100 ppt 4
PFAS Detected 14
PFAS Not Detected 15

November 30, 2018
In response to the Phase I sampling results, EGLE conducted a Phase II sampling event in the area. For the Phase II sampling event, EGLE sampled approximately 37 wells beginning on November 30, 2018.

December 26, 2018
The 120th Avenue PFAS Study Area test results received for Phase II.

Type of Result Total Wells Sampled
PFOS+PFOA > 70 ppt 0
PFOS+PFOA Detected 13
PFOS+PFOA Not Detected 24
Total PFAS > 100 ppt 1
PFAS Detected 20
PFAS Not Detected 17

January 2019

Begin planning for a hydrogeologic investigation in an effort to better understand the source and distribution of PFAS in this area. Potential sources in the area include the use of firefighting foam, undocumented dump sites, potential biosolid application in the area and materials from a nearby highway construction project. The investigation will be conducted in a phased approach and will involve determining the groundwater flow direction and collecting soil and groundwater samples.

EGLE investigation status:

  • 2 wells exceed PFOS+PFOA >70 ppt Lifetime Health Advisory
  • Most drinking water wells are shallow
  • Sandy aquifer: 0-50 feet deep that lies above a thick clay layer
  • Groundwater flow towards the north to slightly northeast along 120th Avenue
  • Additional investigation needed to confirm flow direction

February - April 2019

EGLE plans to:

  • Install monitoring wells to confirm groundwater flow
  • Sample additional vertical groundwater
  • Sample shallow soils for source areas
  • Sample nearby ponds in the spring after melt
  • Review hydrogeologic data
  • Determine need for additional residential wells sampling
  • Determine need for additional sub-surface samples

May 2019: Investigation Results

Groundwater Flow Direction

Groundwater was encountered at very shallow depths in the study area; approximately two to four feet below the ground surface. The preliminary understanding was groundwater flows to the north and south from the school, and to the northeast near the RTFD. Given seasonal fluctuations in groundwater elevations, as well as nearby agricultural irrigation demands, the direction of groundwater flow may change seasonally.

Soil and Groundwater Results

The investigation included groundwater sampling at 10 locations and soil sampling at four locations. PFAS was found in groundwater at all 10 locations and in the soil at three of the four locations within the study area. The highest concentration of PFAS in groundwater during this investigation was detected on Robinson Township property north of the Fire Department building, which had total PFAS of 2,142 ppt and a combined concentration of PFOS and PFOA of 643.61 ppt. Two groundwater samples from monitoring wells located near the Fire Department exceeded the 70 ppt EPA Lifetime Health Advisory for PFOS and PFOA combined. PFAS was also detected in groundwater at Robinson Elementary School with a total concentration of PFAS of 409 ppt and a combined concentration of PFOS and PFOA of 61 ppt.

Potential Sources

The hydrogeologic investigation did not identify a definitive source of PFAS contamination in the area. The presence of PFAS compounds in soil samples and the elevated concentrations of PFAS in groundwater at Robinson Elementary School and the RTFD indicate the PFAS compounds may have been released at both locations. EGLE explored whether this could have been caused by the use of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF or Class B Fire Fighting Foam). However, the RTFD indicated AFFF is not possessed nor historically used, and the Fire Department does not have any historical knowledge of AFFF being applied in the area. An investigation by EGLE confirmed the foam currently used by the RTFD does not contain PFAS. AFFF has been available since the 1960s, and it is possible that it was applied in the area during an era that pre-dates the knowledge of anyone currently associated with the RTFD. No other potential sources such as illicit dumping or disposal of industrial waste have been identified.

Next Steps

Based on these findings, EGLE will continue to work with Robinson Township and GHAPS. Specifically, additional investigation is needed to assess the groundwater to the area north and east of the fire station. Timing of the expanded investigation is dependent on available funding and resources. Updates will be here and at www.michigan.gov/pfasresponse as information becomes available.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should I get my well tested?

    Click here for information about PFAS and residential well water testing information.

  • What are PFAS?

    Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of man-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s.

    • PFAS do not occur naturally but are widespread in the environment.
    • PFAS are found in people, wildlife and fish all over the world.
    • Some PFAS can stay in people's bodies for a long time.
    • Some PFAS do not break down easily in the environment.
  • Can exposure to PFAS cause health problems?
    • Some scientific studies suggest that certain PFAS may affect different systems in the body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry are working with various partners to better understand how exposure to PFAS might affect people's health— especially how exposure to PFAS in water and food may be harmful. Learn More »

    • Some (but not all) PFAS build up in the body. The levels of some PFAS go down slowly over time once exposure stops. Scientists are studying how different amounts of PFAS in the body over time may affect health.

    • More research is needed, but some studies in people have shown that certain PFAS may:
      • affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children
      • lower a woman's chance of getting pregnant
      • interfere with the body's natural hormones
      • increase cholesterol levels
      • affect the immune system
      • increase the risk of cancer
  • Should my family and I be tested for any of the health conditions possibly linked to PFAS exposure?
    • Laboratory test results can't tell you if PFAS exposure has caused your health condition.
    • Some of the health effects possibly linked to PFAS exposure, like high cholesterol, can be checked as part of your annual physical. It is important to have regular check-ups and screenings.
    • You can tell your doctor about any exposure to PFAS and any symptoms you have.
  • Should my family and I get a blood test for PFAS if we have been exposed to PFAS?
    • PFAS blood test results can tell you the amount of PFAS in your blood. However, test results won't tell you how PFAS will affect your health now or in the future.
    • Blood testing for PFAS is not a regular test offered by doctors or health departments.
    • If you want or need to know your PFAS blood levels, you can talk to
      • your doctor or health care provider
      • other health professionals (for example, for concerns about babies and children contact your regional Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit or PEHSU ).
    • Remember that test results will only tell you and your health care provider if you have been exposed to PFAS.
    • Keep in mind that most people in the United States have one or more specific PFAS in their blood, especially PFOS and PFOA.
  • Could exposure to PFAS in drinking water harm my health in the future?

    We don't know if exposure to PFAS may cause health problems in the future. You can tell your doctor if you have been exposed to PFAS and ask if you need to be monitored for symptoms or conditions that may be caused by PFAS exposure in the future.

  • How can I be exposed to PFAS?

    PFAS contamination may be in drinking water, food, indoor dust, some consumer products, and workplaces. Most nonworker exposures occur through drinking contaminated water or eating food that contains PFAS. Although some types of PFAS are no longer used, some products may still contain PFAS:

    • Food packaging materials
    • Nonstick cookware
    • Stain resistant carpet treatments
    • Water resistant clothing
    • Cleaning products
    • Paints, varnishes and sealants
    • Firefighting foam
    • Some cosmetics
  • How can I reduce my exposure to PFAS?

    PFAS are present at low levels in some food products and in the environment (air, water, soil, etc.), so you probably cannot prevent PFAS exposure altogether. However, if you live near known sources of PFAS contamination, you can take steps to reduce your risk of exposure.

    If your drinking water contains PFAS above the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory, consider using an alternative or treated water source for any activity in which you might swallow water.

If you are concerned about PFAS exposure please contact MDHHS Services Toxicology hotline at 1-800-648-6942 or visit www.michigan.gov/pfasresponse .

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