High PFAS levels found in water in 2 Kalamazoo Co. communities

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Emergency response teams hand out free bottled water to residents at the Parchment High School in Parchment, Mich., Friday.

Local and state authorities are warning residents in two Kalamazoo County communities to stop drinking or cooking with water following findings of high amounts of industrial chemicals.

The warning follows a directive by Gov. Rick Snyder instructing the state departments of Environmental Quality, Health and Human Services, and State Police as well as the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team to assist the communities. The State Emergency Operations Center has also been activated. 

Kalamazoo County said bottled water will be distributed to residents in Parchment and Cooper Township from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Parchment High School. Kalamazoo will connect the two communities to its water supply, the county health officer said.

“We fully recognize the seriousness of this situation, and we recognize people are going to have concerns,” Sheriff Richard Fuller told reporters during a rare late-night news conference Thursday. "... Please know we are taking care of these situations."

Snyder said in a news release Thursday that “our first priority is the health of residents in the Parchment and Cooper Township area and to ensure they have access to safe drinking water ..."

“Our next step is to work as a team to address the source of this contamination and restore the municipal water system,” he said.

The communities were among the areas statewide where the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had been sampling water for PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, said Jim Rutherford, who leads the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department.

PFAS are a group of chemicals that includes perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. They can be found in food packaged in the materials, commercial household products or manufacturing facilities. It has also been used in fire fighting. 

Authorities are working to determine where the chemicals originated but “we do know the source ... is a contaminant,” Rutherford said. “We don’t know the significance or how far this is spread out.”

The water remains safe for residents to bathe or wash laundry and dishes, but they should avoid drinking and cooking, Rutherford said.

The ban will last until test results show PFAS levels are below the health advisory levels, he added.

Meanwhile, a hotline has been launched for those who need help getting water: (269) 567-7595 and (269) 567-2517.

County officials also vowed bottled water would remain available.

"There should be no concerns for people getting water," Fuller said. "You will get water."