OTSEGO, Mich. — Craig Newland said the water tucked in the back of his farmland has always been brown. However, over the last three years, it’s gotten darker. It's so murky now that he and his wife refer to it as the "dirty pond."
“If somebody told me that this water was good and signed off, they would be nuts because this water is not good,” he said while holding up a glass jar of it. “This water is bad.”
Newland showed FOX 17 how dirty he believed the water to be when he scooped up a sample of it. The water was dark brown and resembled tea. Then he walked 100 feet over to a nearby pond, stooped down to pick up its water and it was clear.
“We know there’s something wrong with this water,” said Newland. “There is no environmental life in this water. There’s no frogs. There’s no turtles.”
No bug activity either, he said. Whenever it rains, the pond floods, spills over a bank and creates an additional pond. Over the years, he and his wife have watched it grow.
“We ended up investigating a little more, watching the water did not recede back,” said Newland. “When the water did recede, all the grass was dead.”
The water has also affected their livestock, he said. They had a cow that was diagnosed with cancer. Through veterinary tests the doctor said it was because of “severe acorn poisoning.” However he said they had no acorns on their land.
“We don’t bring our dogs,” said Newland about walking them near the pond. “We fenced [it] off so no cattle will have access to the water.”
The cow has since recovered but they’ve spent hundreds of dollars fencing off both ponds. Like many in Ostego, Newland said he thinks the problem may stem from the old Manesha landfill site. It was once located on the other side of the ‘dirty pond.’ A sign saying "Manesha packaging" still stands there. He believes something broke off from a cap that made the water dark.
“This is something that we didn’t produce,” said Newland. “This is something that comes from the landfill. We’re trying to be more holistic. We care about the environment. We care about the water.”
It’s why he called the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in 2015, 2016 and November 2017. He said they came out each time and tested the land. However, he didn’t get the results back until April 14 of this year.
“It was just a list of everything they tested for,” said Newland. “Nobody’s ever said the water is good, the water’s bad. Nothing.”
FOX 17 reached out to the MDEQ for a statement or response. They said in a phone interview Monday afternoon that after their district office received the samples, they contacted Newland over the phone and told him the results.
“He was informed the results did not show any concern relative to applicable criteria pollutants that we normally look for," said Scott Dean, spokesman for the MDEQ. “It’s important to note that these 2017 water samples for Mr. Newland were not sampled for PFAs.”
Polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs, were discussed at the April 14th Town Hall meeting at the United Methodist Church in Otsego. Over a hundred residents packed the church to discuss their ongoing health, cancer and water concerns. Officials from the MDEQ, and other departments including the EPA and county offices, listened.
“As part of our overall response to the concerns raised by local residents in the area covered, you know around Otsego, the DEQ had submitted to sampling a select group of residential wells,” Scott continued on the phone. “This is going to include Mr. Newland’s drinking water well. Additionally there are a few monitoring wells remaining at the former Manesha landfill that we’re going to sample as well.”
Newland said somebody has to take responsibility soon. He fears that one day the pond will get so large that it’ll overflow into the Kalamazoo River, contaminate it and affect everyone in the surrounding area.
“This is something that is not going to go away and we don’t want somebody 50 years from this date to have a problem,” said Newland. “How many people is this going to affect down the road? We don’t know. We want to protect our own lives, our livestock lives, our own land.”