Info doesn’t cause panic, but a lack of info does

A plume of contaminated groundwater is a scary thing. It creeps quietly into our lives in gentle shushes from our faucets, the soft snap of a garden-grown pea.

We drink, we eat, we line the kids up at the drinking fountains after recess. And then, the news arrives, and the tug of war begins between the light tread of calmingly manufactured, tip-toed answers and people’s righteous desire for information.

This dance is going on in at least 30 sites in our country and in places around the world when it comes to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known in shorthand as PFAS.

This marvelous invention of the 1930s and its derivatives gave us nonstick skillets, waterproof shoes and jackets, stain-resistant carpet and a white foam that snuffed out nasty fires.

When we eat and drink it, it also can interfere with growth, learning, and behavior of infants and children and human hormones, lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant and increase cholesterol levels and cancer risks.

Now these robust, non-degradable compounds are turning up in soil and groundwater — most recently, in a 4-acre site less than 1,000 feet from Blair Elementary School.

The contamination is the likely result of the weeks-long dousing of a 1995 tire fire with PFAS-containing aqueous film forming foam at Carl’s Retreading.

Contamination was first detected in May — ahem — that could potentially impact drinking water at the school and 35 surrounding homes. The state’s PFAS action team (just created in 2017) took samples July 16, and could have results next week, according to a health department statement released Thursday.

This now presents a grand opportunity on the behalf of our government agencies that take our tax money to protect our health — talk to us.

Talk to us in plain language. Talk to us early, and talk to us often. Do not hide behind the guise of scientific methodology.

We understand that testing takes time. Educate us. Be proactive and honest. Don’t mince your steps because you’re hiding from the specter of liability.

Of course we’re scared to learn the results. Who knows what we — our kids — have been unwittingly exposed to? How will it impact our health, our homes, our livelihood?

But no or slow information just muddies — or foams, in the case of the PFAS contamination of Camp Grayling’s Lake Margrethe — the waters.

We don’t know the far-flung, far-reaching impacts of PFAS contamination. But we want to. And we want to show the other communities across the country and world that we’ve learned something from contamination information flow — i.e. Flint or any number of others — that has varied from a drip-drop mishap to a gully washer of criminal conduct and coverup.

— Traverse City Record-Eagle

COMMENTS