This DEQ map shows the landfill in red. The series of tiny green dots note wells already tested that showed no traces of PFAS. A new set of 25 residential wells —all just inside the yellow border area—will be tested.

Otsego residential wells test safe; PFAS found at Menasha landfill

Ryan Lewis, Editor

At a long-awaited public announcement Saturday, Oct. 20, state health officials said residential wells near Otsego showed relatively safe levels of dioxin contamination.

The news was tempered, however, by concerns over extremely high levels of another contaminant near the site of the former Menasha Paper industrial landfill.

Angelique Joynes, health officer for Allegan County Health Department, said, “At this point, the wells are not contaminated.”

Of the 62 tested in Otsego, Otsego Township and Alamo Township, 17 tested positive for dioxin, a highly toxic contaminant that causes cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and interference with hormones.

The sampling was done in July. Preliminary results were announced in early September, when those 17 homes, 14 in Allegan County, were given bottled water out of an abundance of caution while the dioxin levels were still being determined.

Officers with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services discussed testing results with each of the wells’ owners over the past week.

Dave Heywood, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Kalamazoo district supervisor, said, “We sampled for about 200 individual compounds. With regard to dioxin, we had some detections, but they came in—the highest was one result that was a little over 13 ppq.”

The rest were at or below 12 ppq—the level at which water is considered safe to drink for all purposes throughout a lifetime, even for those who are pregnant or have compromised immune systems. Higher levels prompt local health officials to help a well-owner understand how that level may influence their health. Only at 30 ppq is the water considered unsafe.

Those measurements are of overall toxicity, a calculation called TEQ, from the group of roughly two dozen types of dioxin. It is measured in parts per quadrillion, or ppq. A quadrillion is 1,000 trillions. State officials have described 1 ppq as being similar to one at zero.

Another clue came from the first lab’s own practices. As a way to ensure accuracy, labs typically include some clean samples in with the actual samples. No dioxins should be detected in these “blank sets,” yet some traces were.

That suggested that something in the lab environment may have contaminated the results—either residual dioxin from previous tests that had been not washed completely out or some other source.

Crider said, “So, we do think this is a laboratory issue, but we’re waiting for the data to come in on that.”

Twenty-one wells are being retested; each of those showed at least 1 ppq TEQ of dioxins. Those samples will be sent to different lab than that which handled the first round of testing. Split samples will be sent to yet another lab.

Chris Lantinga, with the DEQ Kalamazoo District office, said, “We’ve sampled 19 of 21 of those wells as of (Saturday).”

He said the expedited results are expected within a week.


Menasha’s landfill

Flawed though they may be, the data so far shows that the residential wells showed very little of a different contamination: PFAS. None, including several monitoring wells, tested at higher than the safe limit of 70 parts per trillion, or ppt.

However, ponds near the former Menasha landfill tested at higher than 1,000 ppt for PFAS.

PFAS are per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says are likely carcinogens and also are linked to other illnesses.

Lantinga said, “We did a survey of all the remaining houses in the area surrounding the landfill. And we’ve identified 25 additional wells we’re going to be sampling specifically for PFAS in the next few weeks.”

That work had not been scheduled with homeowners as of Saturday.


Next steps

Before the state agencies are prepared to recommend any steps to evaluate the current health of the population, there is more research to be done.

Officials with the DEQ are in the process of determining what else to sample, particularly for the soil.

Among the options:

• fields that have been identified through the DEQ’s research and public input where industrial paper waste sludge was spread

• locations where residents have reported another industrial waste, fly ash, was spread

• within the former Menasha landfill

• the soil beneath roads where yet another type of industrial waste, called liquor, was spread as dust control

Lantinga said, “We’re still working with our consultants on how to actually perform (the soil testing)... specifically where to collect the samples, and how deep do you collect the samples? How many do you collect to get a statistically valid set to evaluate?

“All of those we’re still working on, (so) soil sampling will not be occurring in the next month or so. It could be two or three months.”

Aside from that, he said the public could expect the second round of water testing results to be posted to the county website,, where other documents have been posted from the ongoing investigation. Individual well owners would be contacted and another public meeting would be planned to explain the results and answer questions.



For those concerned with filtering out the low levels of dioxin from their water, there are no options that provide guaranteed protection.

Crider said the MDHHS had contacted filter manufacturer NSF to find options to contend with the contamination.

“I had a meeting with their international experts. If it is a particulate filter, followed by a carbon-based filter that targets PCBs, is their best estimation of what will work,” Crider said, but noted that that method is by no means certified to work. “At these low levels, there’s nothing demonstrated that will remove it, because it is such a small level.”

For now, the testing will continue and the county health department’s hotline remains open for residents to call for more information: (269) 686-4546 daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Find a complete version of this story online at

Contact Ryan Lewis at or (269) 673-5534.


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