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Former Rockford resident thinks PFAS exposure may have caused pregnancy problems

A rusty barrel in the woods
Bryce Huffman
A rusty barrel in the woods near a former dump site used by Wolverine Worldwide

A Kent County woman believes groundwater contamination caused complications during her pregnancy, and that PFAS exposure may be to blame for the newborn's death.

Wolverine Worldwide is the shoe manufacturer believed to have contaminated groundwater near Rockford with PFAS. That's a family of chemicals often used to waterproof leather.

Ashlee Naffziger lived in Rockford for about 13 years before moving out of her mom’s house. She was on private well water during that time.

Naffziger says she suffered complications such as preeclampsia — that's hypertension during pregnancy — among other issues while she was pregnant in 2014.

“All of that stuff was a big issue throughout my whole pregnancy and it started pretty quickly, about 16 or 17 weeks, so it was very early on,” Naffziger said.

Her son Hunter, who she was pregnant with at the time, died after she had a cesarean section at 36 weeks. Nazziger dealt with infertility for the next few years until becoming pregnant with her son Grayson in 2016.

Naffziger says she didn’t hear about the PFAS contamination until last year, but once she did, there was uneasiness about her health issues.

“It was just fear. Fear for my parents who still live [in Rockford], fear for my own health and worries about Hunter, and fear for my son Grayson who has been over my parents’ house a lot,” she said.

She and her husband joined a class-action lawsuit against Wolverine.

The company says estimates it will spend $40 million this year for things related to the contamination such as filtration systems, bottled water, and consulting firms.

Lisa Pruett, Naffziger’s mom, has lived on private well water in Rockford for 19 years. Pruett’s well tested at 250 parts per trillion – or ppt. The EPA advisory level for PFAS is 70 parts per trillion.

Pruett says Wolverine should think about the people the contamination has affected.

“To put themselves in our shoes, and to have the health issues we've had and the health issues my daughter has had, and would they want that for their families,” Pruett said.

Brian Hartl is with the Kent County Health Department. He says one health study in West Virginia linked PFAS exposure to problems with pregnancy, among other issues.

“The study linked PFAS to several health problems, but there isn’t a good way of knowing the source of the exposure. Those chemicals could come from a variety of sources,” Hartl said. 

Despite some uncertainty surrounding the source of her health issues, Naffziger thinks people should take their health concerns seriously if they've been exposed to PFAS. 

"If you feel like something isn't right, trust your gut. If you or your family members are getting sick and you know you've been exposed to this stuff in the water, get yourself checked out," Naffziger said. 

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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