Former Plainfield Township clerk helps lead fight for clean water

Posted at 10:35 PM, Feb 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-25 22:35:14-05

PLAINFIELD TWP., Mich.-- Scott Harvey is one of the thousands of residents in northern Kent County worried about harmful chemicals in his drinking water potentially coming from nearby landfills. His experience working for Plainfield Township gives him an insider's perspective of the operations of these landfills.

“We had had some indications with some contacts at the state it was gonna turn out to be pretty bad," Harvey tells FOX 17.

Harvey served as the clerk of Plainfield Township from 2008-2013. He left his duties when he and his wife retired to home on the Rogue River in Algoma Township. Now, he's joined the more than 5,000 people in the grassroots group "Demand Action," which is calling for officials to release more information about how local water became contaminated with PFAS and other dangerous chemicals, likely due to decades of dumping at landfills.

Though Harvey has been enjoying retirement, when he learned about extremely high levels of potentially cancer-causing PFAS, he knew he had to step up.

After doing his own research on the landfill's history, he says it was obvious to him that wasn't being run properly. He calls it “common sense, grandfather experience.”

“That’s when it peaked my interest because as the grandfather of 37, 25 of them are in Plainfield, or have lived in Plainfield Township," Harvey tells FOX 17.

He says when he worked for the township he learned that the North Kent Landfill had its leachate flowing into the sanitary sewer, so he made a call to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

“My question, I just made a call to the DEQ and I asked them if they ever test for that and would that go through that system and right into the Grand River?" Harvey says. "Since if PFOS was found here at the dump, at the landfill, would it be cleaned? And they said they didn’t think it would be.”

In late January, the Department of Public Works released a statement explaining that wells near the landfill produced results showing PFOS and PFOA levels up to 237.4 parts per trillion, well above the state's limit of 70 parts per trillion.

“You can see, you’ve got water constantly flowing into that gulley, into that ravine and this would be surface waters, supposedly, but we believe this to be groundwater coming up because you’ve got that big receptacle and they call that a ‘groundwater retention pond,’” Harvey tells FOX 17.

He believes that groundwater poses a risk to aquifers. Waste barrels lay just feet from the gulley, shown in the video above.

Harvey and other members of "Demand Action" believe not enough is being done to contain and test that contaminated water.

For nearly two months, Harvey has been trying to get answers about the legality and safety of the drainage ponds, monitoring wells and discharge on and from the North Kent Landfill. He says he's even filed Freedom of Information Act requests to find answers, without much luck.

FOX 17 took his questions to the Department of Public Works, they replied in part, with the following statement:

"The groundwater ponds you reference have all permits required by and are in full compliance with all permitting requirements of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.  All outfalls from the groundwater ponds north of the actual landfill are tested and are in compliance with and below all established drinking water and surface water limits for arsenic and benzene."

Harvey says when he brought his concerns to the county, he was given a different answer.

“They did not know when or why that pond was not permitted or no longer permitted, because the documentation I sent shows that in fact, they said it was disconnected," Harvey says.

Harvey is also concerned with the levels of benzene found in monitoring wells on the North Kent Landfill. According to the EPA, with long-term exposure, benzene can cause anemia, decrease blood platelets  and increase a person's risk of cancer. The EPA advises zero exposure to benzene and sets a legal limit of five parts per billion. In October, five detections of benzene were found on the North Kent Landfill, ranging from 1.4 to 3.8 parts per billion.

Harvey worries that those levels of benzene compromised the lining of the landfill, exposing groundwater to whatever waste was in the landfill, including PFAS.

In a statement to FOX 17, the DPW says this is unlikely.

"If the liner were substantially degraded, the years of testing would have shown the impact in groundwater of a highly degraded liner.  The years of regular monitoring have not given us reason to believe the liner has been degraded by benzene."

Harvey says he remains committed to this issue, hoping the county does more to address the concerns of "Demand Action."

“More and more testing," Harvey tells FOX 17. "I don’t know why they hesitate and not test. They have the facilities, they have the funding because the landfill has a special fund just to help prevent things like this from happening that they put on the users.”

Meanwhile, Wolverine Worldwide, one of the companies accused of causing water contamination, publishes updates on their blog.