State’s hunt for PFAS, dioxin moves to test soil near roads

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

State investigators said early this week that soil testing in the Otsego area was continuing.

Next week, a new phase of sampling soil was expected to begin along roads where byproducts had been spread for years as dust control decades ago.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (then the MDEQ) began soil tests in March, searching for contamination leftover from the papermaking industry.

A written update to the community Saturday said, “The project team has been working very hard to complete an evaluation of soils in areas where waste materials from the former Menasha Paper Mill have been historically applied or disposed.”

The agency hopes to uncover any PFAS and dioxins/furans in the soil. PFAS is a set of chemicals that consists of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances that are likely carcinogens. Dioxin is a highly toxic contaminant that causes cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and interference with hormones.

The EGLE team collected more than 6,000 samples from area farm fields where paper sludge was applied as a crop amendment and from several private properties where sludge and fly ash were disposed.

“The last phase of soil sampling, the collection of samples from roadside areas where Menasha’s black liquor was historically used as a roadbinder, will occur beginning the week of June 10,” it said.

The sampling covered a total of 22 separate locations where paper sludge or fly ash was applied or deposited; there are 16 separate locations where black liquor was used as a road binder.

It expects to have results back from labs by the end of July.

The department is reportedly gathering samples as part of a technique called “incremental sampling.” It is expected the data will more accurately delineate any contamination but that it requires more individual samples, adding to the testing period.

“With incremental sampling, additional processing of the soil samples occurs at the laboratory before the analysis can be run,” the update said. “This adds time to the laboratory testing process.

“We are using VISTA laboratories in California due to our high confidence in their data quality. They handle PFAS samples from all over the country including most of the samples coming from Michigan—both soil and groundwater.”

The department plans to work with other state agencies, the Allegan County Health Department, and the federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry to evaluate the data and then schedule a public meeting to present the results to the community.

Private drinking water wells tested throughout the last year all tested below the health safety limit of 70 parts per trillion of PFAS.

The tests were prompted in early 2018, when residents brought concerns about contamination and high rates of health issues in the Otsego area to federal and state agencies.

In October 2018, officials said a pond at the north end of a former Menasha industrial landfill had tested at higher than 1,000 parts per trillion for PFAS, far exceeding the safe limit. It’s partially on active farmland. The landfill is just north of 106th Avenue near Hill Road.

Area residents Chris Newland and Deb Beattie are thankful for the testing so far but believe the testing is taking too long. They also hope state agencies will investigate the landfill site further.

Newland said. “Don’t you think if that pond tested so high, they should be all over this site testing? It seems like there’s a lack of a sense of urgency.”

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