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Officials ask for patience with Kalamazoo-area PFAS contamination

MDEQ map
Bryce Huffman
Michigan Radio
The MDEQ map of the current testing area in Richland Township.

In response to concerns about groundwater contamination, the city of Kalamazoo told Richland Township residents Wednesday night it could extend its water system to the township. 

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality recently found chemicals known as PFAS at high levels in wells near an old plastic manufacturing site about ten miles from Kalamazoo. 

PFAS chemicals have been linked to developmental and reproductive problems in animal studies. One type of PFAS chemical called PFOA has been associated with testicular and kidney cancer, along with other health issues, in a large epidemiological study of people.

Local and state officials could not say whether residents would have to foot the bill for a city water system extension, or even when that extension might be built. 

James Baker, deputy public services director for the city of Kalamazoo, says it’s just too soon to confirm any details of long-term solutions.

“[The city] still hasn’t talked to engineers about how we’d go about extending the water line. And we are in cooperation with the state, so it’s really too early to give people a definite answer to some of these questions,” Baker said.

But this uncertainty is leaving residents frustrated.

Amy Schwartz, a Richland Township resident who lives in the state’s testing zone for PFAS, says paying for the water system extension herself would be a “nightmare.”

“My house sits back from the road. Do you know how much money it’s going to cost me to run that? And then I have to pay for it every month,” Schwartz said.

Multiple reports about the dangers of PFAS emerged from state and federal agencies after months and sometimes years of knowing about the potential harm. This also doesn’t sit well with Schwartz.

“How am I supposed to trust what the DEQ is telling me when they’ve known for years these chemicals could be in my water? I mean, all four of my kids have grown up drinking this water. Even if they had told us last year that something bad might be in it, I would’ve had one less year of my family being exposed to it,” she said.

Scott Dean, communications director with the DEQ, says the state will in fact update residents immediately about their test results.

“If we find any PFAS detection, we think that’s too much. We want people to have alternative water until we get to the bottom of it,” Dean said.

The state sent in the second round of water samples this week. The results from the 24 wells being tested should be back in the next three weeks.

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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