KALAMAZOO COUNTY, Mich — A local family now knows their water is safe to drink, following the results of a Newschannel 3 special report. We paid a company to test the water of a concerned homeowner with a private well in Cooper Township, close to where the state found PFAS contaminating the public drinking supply in Parchment.
PFAS are are group of man-made chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances that have been used in a variety of industries around the globe since the 1940s. The chemicals don’t break down in the environment, nor in the human body and they can accumulate over time. Plus, there is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.
So, the Watson family stopped using the tap water when they learned Parchment's water supply contained PFAS at a dangerous level. The family lives about two miles from the area, and with three young children the Watsons did not want to take a chance. However, their children, including a baby, had already been drinking the water, in some cases for years.
We hired a company named Fleis and Vandenbrink to test the Watsons' well for PFAS. One of the company's owners, Brian Rice told us at the time that the test would be accurate.
"They're using what is called 537 version 1.1," Rice said. "It is a very specific method, and the results on it are very reliable."
Those results are now in, and offer good news for the Watson family: Non-detect, meaning there are no PFAS in their well.
When we first visited the Watsons, they had switched to using bottled water to feed their baby. When we spoke to the family following the test they are now back drinking tap water.
"We were giving it to the kids," Brian Watson said. "And ... it is not an issue in our house, so we felt better in that regard, just a big relief."
So what happens if a homeowner's private well does contain a dangerous level of PFAS?
"The first thing that the DEQ is going to do is look into the area and see if there are any obvious commercial or industrial sources," said David Heywood, a district remediation supervisor with Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality.
Months after the contamination was found, DEQ investigators were continuing their search into what happened. However, an investigation into the source, while important, does not help a homeowner with a contaminated well.
The federal government established that more than 70 parts per trillion is too high for PFAS, and in those cases the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services steps in to help.
"We make the funds available to provide bottled water, in the short term, in the interim," said Jordan Bailey a toxicologist with the state health department. "So immediately we provide bottled water, if it is over 70. And then we work to get filtration systems in, that we provide to those residents."
The filtration systems cost hundreds of dollars. It's a cost the state will cover if the well is in a PFAS investigation area. Michigan health department officials said in the Watsons' case their home would have been close enough to Parchment to have bottled water and a filtration system covered by the state, if their water had tested above the levels considered safe.
Anyone who has a company test a private well for PFAS and it comes back positive, should immediately contact the local health department, Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services, state offiicals said. Those agencies need to know, and it is the way homeowners can potentially receive financial help from the state.