Old photos map dumps linked to cancer study

Health Dept. studying possible cancer clusters near 3 old Wolverine Worldwide sites

house street ne, belmont, wolverine worldwide dump site
A 1967 aerial photo shows a Wolverine Worldwide dump site off House Street NE in Belmont. (Courtesy Kent Conservation District)


ALGOMA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Old aerial photographs, some dating back nearly 80 years, help tell the story of old dump sites now at the center of a planned cancer cluster study.

The Kent County Health Department said it is planning a study of possible cancer clusters and other health problems around old dump sites once used by Wolverine Worldwide. Already, the well water at 14 homes south of one of the dumps, along House Street NE in Belmont, have tested positive for a likely carcinogen once used on Wolverine shoes.

plainfield township, wolverine worldwide, contaminated water
A well in Belmont that was contaminated, likely by chemicals from an old Wolverine Worldwide dump site. (Sept. 26, 2017)

“Right in here is where your dump is,” a former truck driver who hauled Wolverine sludge said, pointing to an aerial photograph of 12 Mile Road NE in Algoma Township.

The former driver, who didn’t want to be named, said he hauled rancid sludge from Wolverine to that dump.

An aerial photograph from 1967 shows the 12 Mile site along the north side of the Rogue River and the west side of what is now the White Pine Trail.

Map: Confirmed and possible former Wolverine Worldwide dump sites.

The driver said he worked for a trucking company that dumped sludge legally from Wolverine’s Rockford tannery about the time the 1967 aerial was taken.

“As far as chemicals and what was in it, I have no idea,” he said.

He said he dumped loads only occasionally at the private landfill on 12 Mile perhaps a half-dozen times in a little more than a year. But he said he never dumped hides or barrels.

“I might haul one load up there and then not haul another one for a couple months,” he said.

He said he doesn’t know if other drivers dumped sludge at 12 Mile Road before he started working there.

Target 8 dug into an open area at the 12 Mile site and found evidence of an old landfill, including an old milk bottle, spark plugs and other car parts, and what appeared to be a bottle of soy sauce with sauce still in it.

Algoma Township officials said homes in the area use well water.

The former driver said he dumped most of his loads of sludge in trenches a few miles away along House Street NE in Belmont. An aerial photograph from 1938 appears to show signs of a landfill north of House Street. A 1967 aerial photo shows the House Street site still open.

“These here look like where we dumped,” the driver said, pointing out what appear to be a series of trenches.

>>Online: Health department on House Street disposal area

The 1967 photograph also shows what appears to be an illegal dump site to the south, where Target 8 recently found old animal hides and barrels.

>>App users: Historic aerial photos of dump sites

This summer, tests showed a likely carcinogen known as PFOS was in the water in some homes south of the House Street landfill, which closed in about 1970. It’s a chemical in Scotchgard, which was used by Wolverine on its shoes.

As for the third spot, on Cannonsburg Road, the driver says he never dumped there. It’s the site of what is now Boulder Creek Golf Club.

A Kent County resident told Target 8 he recalls finding scraps of leather at the Cannonsburg dump decades ago. Another man who lives near Boulder Creek said he remembers the dump in the late 1970s.

“Ugly looking water, kind of a blueish, mucky looking stuff,” neighbor James Stover said. “Definitely wouldn’t have been a place where you’d want to go wading or fishing.”

He said the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality assured him his water is safe because he lives upstream from the old dump. Newer homes to the west are hooked up to city water.

“I think they should make sure that there is no hazard there, because they need to investigate, figure out what got dumped there,” Stover said.