City of Otsego anxiously waits for new water test results amid dioxin fears
OTSEGO, Mich. —
Just one week after tests revealed the presence of dioxins in 16 private wells just outside of the city of Otsego, city officials are in the process of conducting new water tests looking for dioxins in the water supply.
Initial tests performed back in April indicated the city's water supply was in the clear in terms of dioxins, but shortly after more sophisticated tests showed the presence of dioxins in water wells just outside the city, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) recommended new tests for the city's water supply.
"They [DEQ] said 'here's a standard dioxin drinking water test,'" recalled Otsego City Manager Aaron Mitchell, referring to the initial tests recommended by the DEQ. "I thought we were good because we tested and it came back negative...but then I was informed that it was for a different type of dioxin not tested for," he added, referring to the latest test results done on water outside the city.
According to the Allegan County Health Department, wells outside city limits tested positive for 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzofuran. A news release from the health department indicated those chemicals may have been created during paper manufacturing, once a main industry in and around Otsego.
Dioxins are chemical compounds that are widely known to be linked to disease and several cancers.
Although much of West Michigan is rightfully concerned about the presence of PFAs in water supplies, environmental engineer Michael Pinto says there's plenty of evidence to suggest the presence of dioxins could prove to be even more damaging to humans.
"We know that it's bad for people, we're not just guessing that it's bad for people," he said, noting the ample evidence collected over the last 40 years on dioxins.
"Dioxins are considered to be more toxic than PFAs and that may be because we have a longer history of understanding them and the medical effects," he added.
Pinto noted that dioxins have been linked to diabetes, cancer, and immune system problems.
Otsego's city manager said he anticipates getting results back from the newest water tests underway within 15 days, while noting he and his family continue to drink the city's water based on the previous round of testing.
"I would say we're hoping and optimistic we're going to have non-detects," he said, before adding that he and other city officials are also prepared for the possibility of bad news upon the return of test results.
"We're here to help...sometimes people point the finger at the city that we're obstacles in some manner and I don't understand how that's the case," he said.
Unlike PFAs, there is no minimum level threshold that would make it okay for someone to drink water contaminated with dioxins.
Back in March the Newschannel 3 I-Team was first to report the Allegan County Health Department investigating concerns about a possible cancer cluster the Otsego area.
Subsequent community meetings have led some, including health officials, to become concerned about possible water contamination issues linked to the waste disposal techniques of some of the areas former paper companies once dominating the local economy.
As a result of those initial concerns, the DEQ, Allegan County Health Department, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and various community action groups have continued to investigate the situation with periodic updates.
The City of Allegan's data on its water supply and recent testing done on the water supply can be found here.