Water systems test safe near Otsego

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

While results of residential well tests had not yet been announced at press time, municipal water systems near Otsego appear safe to drink.

The City of Otsego announced its results in September, with only one well showing a trace of contamination calculated to be 100 times smaller than the safe level.

More detailed results from tests of the water systems in Gun Plain and Otsego townships and Plainwell city showed much smaller traces.

Otsego Township supervisor Bryan Winn said the results were welcome news.

“You couldn’t drink enough water in a lifetime to get that contamination into your body,” Winn said. “It’s very, very low.”

An Oct. 5 announcement from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said it had “concluded there was no public health hazard associated with continued use of these municipal water supplies.”

This extensive water testing is an effort to parallel residential well testing near Otsego in the wake of public outcry over suspicions of increased cancer rates from decades-old contamination from the paper mill industry.

Preliminary results of tests of 56 private wells showed some levels of some dioxins in 17; those homes are currently receiving bottled water.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, dioxins can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones.

 

Town hall planned

According to the Oct. 5 announcement thanking the public for its patience for the private well testing—results were originally expected last month—and said, “The remaining private well laboratory analysis results... for all 56 private wells will be received soon, and those residents whose wells were tested will be notified of the results via phone and letter by MDHHS toxicology by mid-October.

“...if the laboratory results indicate that urgent action is required, MDHHS and Allegan County Health Department will contact private well owners directly and provide recommendations.”

A town hall meeting is currently scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 20, at Otsego Middle School, 540 Washington St., Otsego, from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to allow the agencies involved to address concerns of the community, share results and discuss next steps.

 

PPQ

The traces of dioxins found in some of the municipal wells are exceedingly small, measured in fractions of a picogram.

One unit of that measurement is equal to one quadrillionth of a gram. A quadrillion is 1,000 trillions. So, in measuring amounts at this level, it’s a ratio of 1 part per quadrillion, or ppq.

Another way state officials have described 1 ppq is that it is similar to 1 drop of water in 20,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The traces showing up in the municipal testing are small fractions of even that single drop of water.

The safe level of dioxins in drinking water is 12 ppq. MDHHS said that level is understood to still be safe for anyone—pregnant women, children, or adults—to drink daily over their lifetime and not expect harm.

 

City of Plainwell

The city has three wells, located in the southeast corner of the city, but is not currently using one.

City manager Erik Wilson said the backup well, which had generally only provided approximately 5 percent of the city’s water, had been shut down after safe traces of PFAS contamination had been discovered in the spring.

While two showed no contamination, one of the wells in use tested at 0.00051 ppq TEQ, more than 20,000 times below the safe limit.

The “TEQ” designation means that, as with the rest of these test results, the measurement is actually the result of a standard calculation state toxicologists made based on the different toxicity levels of the 29 types of dioxin-like chemical included in the test.

Kory Groetsch, environmental public health director at MDHHS, said the testing is exceptionally thorough.

“If you tested like this everywhere, I would not be surprised if you found detections like this or more in most locations. It’s as close to nothing as is really expected.”

“I think we’re happy with the safe level,” Wilson said. “Testing like this is going to be a common theme moving forward. Michigan, like other communities, has these emerging problems with contamination. We have to be vigilant.

“So, we’re doing above what’s required, and I envision the city continuing doing that moving forward. Water quality is of the utmost importance for our community. We’re going to do what we can to make sure our water is of high quality.”

Wilson did not provide the costs of the testing by press deadline.

“Not for one minute did cost come into consideration,” he said. “We’re going to spend what we need to spend.”

He said it was more than the city spends on standard, annual testing, though it was money well spent.

“At this point the city has received good news,” Wilson said. “And, obviously, we’re happy with the other communities’ results.

“But that in no way means we aren’t going to do due diligence going forward in going above and beyond minimal testing required in the past.”

 

Otsego Township

Otsego Township has three wells, all near the water tower. It serves a total of 225 customers, commercial and residential, all in the area of the Strip.

Well 1 tested at a 0.0069 ppq TEQ of dioxins. That is more than 1,700 times below the safe limit.

Wells 2 and 3 showed 0.00048 ppq, 25,000 times below the safe level.

Speaking at the township board meeting Monday, Oct. 8, Winn said, “The big scare was that we’d come back contaminated and we’d have to serve four communities with bottled water.”

He said he’d heard just that day from someone who was anxious about the water because he was trying to sell his house.

He said everyone was interested in the testing results.

“Where I live, they tilled in a bunch of that solid stuff,” Winn said.

 

Gun Plain Township

Township supervisor Mike VanDenBerg said the test results were good news so far. They are posted to www.gunplain.org.

Gun Plain has one line from the City of Plainwell that serves a group of residents, but it also has its own pair of wells on Mid Lakes Boulevard that serves more than 400 residences near Lake Doster.

“One was a non-detect,” VanDenBerg said, noting that no contaminants showed up in the testing. “The other showed a small amount.”

It tested at 0.0018 ppq TEQ, more than 6,000 times below the safe limit.

“We’re still waiting on testing eight more compounds,” he said. “But these were things the DEQ was recommending we test for; they haven’t been found yet even in the residential testing.”

He also said the township had ordered retesting for PFAS.

“When the DEQ came out to test a couple months ago, they only tested one of the wells,” he said. “So we’re retesting both and waiting on that.”

VanDenBerg said the results had been mailed to all residences served by the township wells and the city water.

The testing has cost $5,550, handled by Pace Analytical.

“We didn’t pay to expedite the results. That would’ve cost three times as much, as I recall,” he said.

Residents with questions about their water can call the Allegan County Health Department’s Hotline (269) 686-4546 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Staff writer Daniel Pepper contributed to this article.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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