Key Facts to Know About PFAS, from Toxicologist Dr. Janet Anderson Ph. D., DABT

We know there is concern about the possible health effects of some PFAS, and that there has been a lot of inaccurate information spread around, so we turned to Dr. Janet Anderson, a board-certified toxicologist and PFAS expert, to get the facts.

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of man-made compounds that have been in use for decades in many products and technologies that feature non-stick, stain resistant or water-resistant qualities.  These include fast food wrappers, candy wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, dental floss, cosmetics, paint, sealants, firefighting foam, carpets, Gore-Tex®, Teflon®, and other consumer applications.  PFAS are also used in a wide range of industries including aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, and textiles.  Until 2002, when 3M implemented a formula change, its Scotchgard™ product contained PFOA and PFOS, two substances in the PFAS family.

  1. Human health effects from exposure to PFAS in the environment are unknown. There is no human study that has been conducted that proves exposure of an individual to any PFAS, including PFOA or PFOS, causes any illness.
  1. 3M, the manufacturer of Scotchgard™, has conducted a number of peer-reviewed studies of its workers that have been exposed to high levels of PFOA and PFOS due to their work at 3M manufacturing plants.  Based on these studies, 3M’s Dr. Carol Levy, Vice President and Corporate Medical Director, has said:

We believe that PFOS and PFOA do not present health risks at levels they are typically found in the environment or in human blood.  This view is informed by testing our production workers who were exposed to these chemicals at levels significantly higher than those in the general population – often over an extended period of time.  Those workers show no adverse health effects from PFC exposure.

https://www.3m.com/3M/en_US/sustainability-us/policies-reports/3m-and-fluorochemicals/ 

These studies have specifically considered liver disease and cancer, and repeatedly found no associations between PFOA/PFOS and these conditions.

  1. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has echoed these findings, stating that “health effects can be caused by many different factors and there is no way to know if PFAS exposure has caused [] health problems or made [them] worse.”
  1. Nearly all people in the United States have PFAS in their bodies. According to the CDC, 99% of the population have some PFAS in their system – essentially, PFAS are virtually everywhere and in virtually everyone to some degree.  PFAS have even been found in remote areas such as wildlife in the arctic and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula rivers.
  1. People can be exposed to PFAS through many different ways, but the primary sources of exposure for the general population are food and household materials like carpet and upholstery.
  1. There is no way to tell the difference between PFAS exposure through drinking water, or exposure from food or household materials.
  1. Because no human studies have proven that exposure of an individual to PFOA or PFOS causes any illness, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) drinking water health advisory level is conservatively based on studies in which rodents were exposed to levels of PFOA and PFOS thousands of times higher than those seen in human populations.
  1. Studies from a Harvard researcher suggesting that setting an extremely low level of 1 ppt of PFOA and PFOS is necessary to protect human health against possible negative effects on immune function were first published in 2012-2013. These findings have not been consistently found in other studies such as the C8 Science Panel, which concluded that there is no probable link between PFOA and immune effects in children or adults.  Moreover, the EPA specifically considered these Harvard studies when setting its drinking water lifetime advisory level in 2016, and chose not to rely upon them.
  1. There are no federal or Michigan regulations for PFAS in drinking water. The current, very conservative EPA lifetime advisory level provides guidance only, and was established by in May 2016 at 70 parts per trillion of PFOA and PFOS combined.  This level has a significant “safety buffer” built in, including assuming exposure for an entire lifetime, and that a pregnant or nursing woman could drink over 4 liters of water per day at 70 ppt PFOA/PFOS with no effect on the developing babies and infants.

ABOUT JANET ANDERSON

Dr. Janet Anderson is a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology and a human health toxicologist and environmental risk assessor with 15 years of experience providing toxicology expertise and consultation to federal agencies and industry.  She specializes in the translation of human health toxicology data into state and federal regulatory policy decisions and performs critical reviews of federal and state risk assessment guidance and regulations.

Wolverine Worldwide 2017 Sampling Data & Interim Work Plan

On November 9, 2017, we announced results of the water sampled for testing from our former Tannery site, the Rogue River, and Rum Creek [Wolverine Worldwide Releases Test Results From Former Tannery Site, Rogue River & Rum Creek].  These results showed that no drinking water is at risk, and that there is no health risk from swimming or recreational contact.

In our continuing effort to keep you informed and give you the facts, below is a link to the complete report summarized in our announcement, which includes the interim workplan we submitted to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Wolverine Worldwide 2017 Sampling Data & Interim Work Plan

Important Updates For This Week…

As we announced last week, we launched WeAreWolverine.com to serve as our direct communication channel to the community – we plan to provide regular updates on what’s happening and what we’re doing to address the situation.

Below, you’ll find to important updates for this week…

Well Testing Results
To date, we’ve sampled approximately 650 wells in the House Street Study Area, Buffer Zone, and Southeast Expansion Area, and have received results for 413 of them, or approximately 63%.  So far, 385 wells have tested below the EPA lifetime drinking water advisory level – 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA/PFOS – and 28 wells have tested above it.  This advisory level was set for the most sensitive populations including children and pregnant mothers, and was based on consuming two liters a day at over 70 ppt every day for 70 years.

Whole House Filter Installation Update
To date, 53 whole house filters have been installed in homes in the House Street Study Area and Buffer Zone, and approximately 50 more are scheduled for this week.  Installations are being prioritized based on the levels of PFOA/PFOS detected in wells.  Our goal is to have all homes that have any level of detection complete by Thanksgiving – this is an aggressive schedule given the complexity of custom installation, but we’re doing everything possible to make this happen.  We appreciate the homeowners’ patience as we ramp-up to our goal of 55 filters per week.

Southeast Expansion Area Testing – Whole House Filters
For any home in the Southeast Expansion Area testing above the EPA lifetime drinking water advisory level of 70 ppt for PFOA/PFOS, Wolverine will be supplying a custom, whole house filter system.  Those homeowners will be contacted by WWW and Culligan to arrange installation.  In the interim, while results are being received, every home in this area is being provided with bottled water through Culligan.

Field Work Update – MDOT and Imperial Pine Waste Removal
The solid waste removed from the MDOT parcel was determined to be non-hazardous, and has already been disposed of.  Similar non-hazardous waste is being removed and disposed of from a parcel on Imperial Pine this week.

MDEQ Update – Testing Areas
We continue to work closely with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to assess additional areas of possible waste disposal that they’ve determined need to be reviewed.  If more sites are identified that need to be addressed, we’ll quickly mobilize efforts to sample wells, and will provide alternate water solutions while residents wait for their test results.

November 29th Town Hall
Wolverine will be participating in the November 29th Public Town Hall hosted by the Kent County Health Department.  The meeting will take place at 6.00pm on Wednesday, November 29th at Rockford High School Freshman Center (4500 Kroes Street NE).  Representatives from Wolverine and the participating agencies will be available beginning at 4.30pm for one-on-one consultations with residents, followed by the Town Hall beginning at 6.00pm.

We developed this blog as one way for you to hear directly from us and you’ll be hearing more from us in the coming days and weeks.  West Michigan is our home and we’ve always acted responsibly and taken our obligations as part of this community personally – for over a hundred years, Wolverine has been not only a leader and contributor to this community, but we’ve also been your neighbor – that’s why we’ve taken the proactive steps we have so far and why we’re committed to seeing this through to the end.  We hope you’ll follow this blog, learn about what we’re doing to make this right, and hear the other side of the story.

We Are Wolverine.

Our Letter to the Community

Hello,

We wanted to take a minute and introduce ourselves – again.

We are Wolverine. 

We’ve been a part of this community for almost 140 years and we couldn’t be more proud to call West Michigan home. We employ 700 of your friends and family, and we’re lucky to be your neighbor.

As you’ve seen and heard, we’ve been in the news a lot lately. We’re the topic of conversations at football games, in our churches and on our neighborhood streets. There’s a lot of information out there and most nights there seems to be a new story – honestly, some of the reporting has been good and responsible, but unfortunately, much of it hasn’t.

As a result, we’ve decided to open up a direct communication channel to the residents of our community – those who are directly affected by the water issue and those who are worried about it. We want to tell you what’s happening today and what we’re planning to do tomorrow.

In addition to this letter, today we’ve launched a new blog – WeAreWolverine.com – here, we plan to publish test results as they become available and keep you up-to-date on everything we’re doing. We’ll keep this channel open as long as we need to – we have our story to tell (along with the facts about the situation) and we know no one is going to do that for us.

For over a hundred years, Wolverine has been not only a leader and contributor to this community, but we’ve also been your neighbor – that’s why we’ve taken the proactive steps we have so far and why we’re committed to seeing this through to the end.

Here are several points to remember…

  • First and foremost, we want residents to have confidence in their water. We’ve said that from the very beginning and we’ll say that to the end.
  • Some stories in the local media that have been driven by plaintiffs’ lawyers and others have caused a lot of anxiety in the community.
  • The truth is we’re still collecting the data and working to find answers. That hasn’t stopped us from taking strong, proactive steps to make it right. In some cases, it’s going to take more time, but we’re moving as fast as we can. One of most important questions we get is – How did this happen?

Wolverine operated a Tannery in downtown Rockford for over 100 years, until it closed in 2009.  Importantly, all our operations were overseen by regulatory authorities at every step and we utilized responsible practices at the time for our Tannery operations.

From the late 1950s until about 2002, we used 3M’s Scotchgard™ in the production of certain leather footwear products. 3M invented Scotchgard™ and supplied it to us. 3M’s Scotchgard™ has been used by thousands of companies and millions of consumers around the world for decades.

In 1998, 3M began discussions on their formula change with its customers because PFOA and PFOS, two compounds within the PFAS family, were “persistent in the environment.” We relied on 3M’s representations to the EPA, FDA, scientific bodies, and Wolverine regarding the safety of the Scotchgard™ formula. 3M continued to sell Scotchgard™ with PFOA/PFOS until 2002.

PFAS is considered an “emerging contaminant” and after more than three decades of study the science behind it (including potential environmental and health impacts) remains uncertain and inconclusive.

We’ve been working with Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) since November 2016, when we became aware of the possible presence of PFAS in groundwater at our former Tannery location. We continue to work with the state to identify and test possible sites, and we’re working diligently to complete that process.

Here is a more detailed look at what we’ve done already:

  • Every resident whose water is being tested has a water solution until they have answers; to date, 338 homes have been offered custom, whole-house filters. Starting last week, we’re ramping up to eventually install over 55 whole-house filters per week until we’re done.
  • We’ve sampled the House Street property and our former Tannery location (along with water from the Rogue River) and we will share those results with you.
  • We’re reviewing known and alleged disposal sites in the area that may be associated with Wolverine, in partnership with MDEQ.
  • We’re talking to 3M about Scotchgard™ – they’re the experts on PFAS and we want to take advantage of their years of research and work with them to find solutions.
  • We’re cleaning up locations where we’ve identified waste from our legacy operations. This includes areas adjacent to the House Street property and our former Tannery.
  • We’ve assembled a core team inside Wolverine to see this through to the end. This team wakes up every morning to be a part of the solution to these issues.

This is, no doubt, a very complicated issue with some questions we still cannot answer. That concerns us as much as it concerns you. Regardless of all of this – we’re from here, we live here, and we promise to see this through to the end – that’s what great companies do and that’s what people from West Michigan do.

We’ve taken some punches over the past few weeks – maybe some fair, but certainly many uninformed, and frankly, unfair. But make no mistake, we’re not going anywhere and anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t know us very well. We know we’ve done the right thing for over a century, we’re doing the right thing today, and we’ll continue to do the right thing moving forward.

And remember – to help keep the story straight and the facts in plain view – you can visit WeAreWolverine.com. We hope you’ll follow this blog, learn about what we’re doing to make this right, and hear the other side of the story.

We are Wolverine.