I was back at the GVSU-Annis Water Resources Institute last week for a chat with Dr. Rick Rediske, scientist and professor of water resources. I have known Rick for decades. His work and assistance have been absolutely essential to cleaning up White Lake, as well as advancing Muskegon Lake’s restoration. Rick was always available to meet with me and other citizens to help us understand pollution issues, and he was the lead scientist on many important studies that helped to define environmental problems in the two lakes, as well as solutions.
My guess is that many in Muskegon County may not know that he helped citizens in Rockford, Michigan raise the issue of PFAS to the attention of state environmental regulators and public health officials and he is one of the state’s top experts on the subject. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, are a group of chemicals used in the industrial, food, textile, and even firefighting industries. They break down very slowly in the environment and are highly soluble, easily transferring through soil to groundwater.
Rockford citizens became concerned about pollution in their community almost 10 years ago. They were frustrated by the lack of attention by city and state government and asked Rick to help. What they uncovered was a massive pollution problem, extending throughout 25-square miles, and contaminating drinking water for almost a thousand households. The offending pollutants were PFAS-related chemicals in Scotchgard, the product used to waterproof shoes made by Wolverine. The state is now studying the pollution at sites across the state, as PFAS-type compounds are used in firefighting foam, and other products. Rick notes that they are also in many everyday products such as fast food wrappers, dental floss, and Teflon cookware.
PFAS compounds have numerous harmful health effects. They can affect the growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children, lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant, affect the immune system, and increase the risk of certain types of cancer. And to make matters worse, the federal guidelines are considered inadequate by many scientists. Fortunately, Michigan is developing its own guideline, which will lower the amount allowable for safe exposure to people.
To find out more, you can check out the state’s website, which provides all of the testing done to date on public water supplies. Muskegon County’s health department also provides information on this topic. A Great Lakes environmental group, Freshwater Future, is offering affordable tests for private drinking water wells.