DEQ expert was 'looking into hell' after PFAS discovery

PFAS Contamination Hearing Held in Grand Rapids

November 13, 2018

Source: Garret Ellison
Department: MLive
Email: gellison@mlive.com

GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- Robert Delaney was profoundly shaken upon his 2010 discovery that PFAS contamination at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda was widespread and that, in all likelihood, the chemicals were infecting the wider Michigan ecosystem in ways that the state is only now starting to quantify.

Delaney, a veteran geologist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, testified before a U.S. Senate field hearing that he felt as if he were standing at the "edge of the abyss looking into hell with the weight of the world on my shoulders."

Delaney's testimony was the highlight of a two-hour hearing Tuesday, Nov. 13 in Grand Rapids convened by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who, sitting alone at a table onstage, sought answers about PFAS contamination in Michigan from two panels of witnesses, including Delaney, the director of Michigan's PFAS response, and the head of the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

Peters, the ranking Democrat on the federal spending and emergency management subcommittee, convened the field hearing at the Grand Valley State University Pew Campus as a follow-up to a similar hearing held Sept. 26 in Washington, DC.

Witnesses included Sandy Wynn-Stelt, a Belmont widow living next to the Wolverine World Wide House Street dump, Rick Rediske, a GVSU Water Resources Institute professor who helped expose Wolverine's use of PFAS chemicals, Adam London, administrative health officer with the Kent County Health Department, and Drew Youngedyke with the National Wildlife Federation.

Also testifying were Pat Breysse, head of the ATSDR, and Carol Isaacs, director of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team, or MPART, a task force created last November that's coordinating contamination response at numerous locations around Michigan.

Cathy Stepp, administrator of the regional Environmental Protection Agency office in Chicago which oversees Michigan and the Great Lakes, was a no-show.

After the hearing, Peters said the EPA told him Stepp had a scheduling conflict, but "we were willing take anybody from the EPA qualified to talk about this," he said. "I'm sure they had folks qualified to be here, so I'm very disappointed they were not."

"Perhaps this is something the Trump Administration does not want to focus on at this time," Peters said. "But we're going to make them focus on this."

Onstage, Peters lauded Delaney as a "legendary figure among the community of Michiganders working to protect our water," and someone whose name surfaced repeatedly as his staff sought information and experts on the contamination in Michigan.

Read the article DEQ expert was 'looking into hell' after PFAS discovery.

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