PAW PAW — After hearing a report about PFAS contamination in Hartford, Van Buren County commissioners on Tuesday expressed concern there may be PFAS contamination in Bangor.
Commissioner Mike Chappell detailed the events that led up to the public report on PFAS in Hartford.
PFAS is short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl and is used for fire extinguishing foam, nonstick products, food packing, cleaning products, paints, and water repellents.
Last week state and county officials reported that PFAS has been found in groundwater near the site of the former Du-Wel plant at 520 Heywood St.
PFAS has been linked to birth defects, reduced immune response in children, cancers and infertility. Federal guidelines set the acceptable level of exposure at 70 parts per trillion (ppt). The 12 monitoring wells near the Du-Wel site showed groundwater contamination as high as 8,690 ppt.
Du-Wel operated more than just in Hartford. There were plants in Bangor, South Haven and Dowagiac. The Bangor plant had dumped contaminants into the Black River Mill Pond, a fact that prompted commissioners to wonder if PFAS will be found there.
“The discharge that they did,” said Commissioner Kurt Doroh, “was allowed by government standards. They just didn’t know how much damage it would do.”
That plant was a plating operation employing about 250 people. It closed in December 1993. Four years later, the plant’s owner, Inverness Castings Group, of Cleveland, Ohio, agreed to pay $926,000 toward cleanup. The state paid the remainder. Total was around $4.3 million.
It took seven years from start to finish. The actual removal of sediments ran from Nov. 26, 2002, to Jan. 13, 2004. The project was delayed by low water levels, an early winter and the discovery of underwater stumps.
All in all, 27,000 tons of material were removed. Then-City Manager Larry Nielsen calculated that if the muck had been put in milk jugs and then the jugs lined up, they would stretch from Bangor to New York City, or 742 miles.
The polluted area mostly consisted of a butterfly-shaped area of 4-to-5 acres that were underwater. Tests showed up to 29,000 parts per million (ppm) of chromium, a heavy metal considered harmful in amounts above 110 ppm, and up to 3.8 ppm of PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls. Any detectable amount of PCBs is considered too much.
At one time Du-Wel was one of Van Buren County’s largest employers. It started in Bangor in 1946 as a die-casting plant for furniture, electronics and appliances and eventually moved into die-casting for automobile companies.