PFAS Predicament: Testing for contaminants is expensive, so is the worry of not knowing
Imagine not knowing if the water in your house is safe for you and your children, and even worse you have been giving your kids that water for years.
That is the burden faced by some families with private wells in Kalamazoo County.
During the summer, we learned about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in Parchment's water. Living nearby are homes on private wells that have not been tested for PFAS. One of those homes belongs to the Watsons in Cooper Township.
Brian and Nicole Watson have three young children, including a baby. All of their children, including baby Colin had been drinking the water.
"You do not necessarily worry about it with yourself," Nicole Watson said. "But we have him and he's been bottle fed since the day he was born."
When Michigan leaders learned that Parchment's water was contaminated with an unsafe level of PFAS, the Watsons took notice. They immediately stopped using tap water to make Colin's bottle. They even stopped letting their children drink the water at all.
The Watsons are about two miles from contaminated wells in Parchment. They do not know if their well is contaminated, but they do know their children had been drinking that water, in some cases, for years.
"For our daughter, it was two years; for our son, most of his life; and for Colin it has been every single day," Nicole Watson said.
Brian Watson said there are bigger worries.
"The biggest thing is, it is not a short-term thing either," he said. "What they think this PFAS thing can do to children long-term, that is what is scary."
Newschannel 3 hired Fleis and VandenBrink Engineering to test the Watson family's well for PFAS.
On testing day, hydro-geologist Eric Walters said he does not want to take a sample from inside the home. "There could be areas in the house, could cross-contaminate. That could give a false positive, anywhere from Teflon tape, or piping compound," Walters said. That is because PFAS can be found in many household items.
Walters identifies a water spigot outside the home as a direct route to the well. His first step is purging the well, by running the water for about 15 minutes.
Then, Walters puts on gloves to avoid contaminating the water sample he collects. He does not want PFAS that could be on his hands or clothing to taint the sample. He includes a second sample called a field blank that the lab provides, which they already know is PFAS free water. Once the sample is taken, he places it in a cooler, and sends it to a lab in New Jersey for an analysis.
That analysis will reveal whether the water contains PFAS, and if so is it at a safe level?
Both Walters and an owner of Fleis and Vandenbrink tell us they are very confident in this method of testing.
"Yes we are going to know with some certainty that the groundwater in this particular area either has PFAS or does not," Walters said. Fleis and VandenBrink Principal Brian Rice told Newschannel 3, "They are using what is called 537 version 1.1. It is a very specific method, and the results on it are very reliable."
However, the results will take weeks to get back. That means we now wait with the Watsons, to learn whether the water they had been feeding their baby is safe.
"What are we going to do if it is bad," Nicole Watson asks. "That is not the end of it, if you get a result, but we have to figure from that point where we go."
As soon as the tests are complete and available, Newschannel 3 will let you know.
PFAS testing is expensive. The test we paid for cost almost $1,100. For families struggling to put food on the table, that price is likely unaffordable. It means they are left wondering whether the water is harming their children?
Below are resources the state provides for those of you with PFAS questions.