School uses bottled water after another dump identified

Tests on East Rockford Middle School's well expected back in about two weeks

East Rockford Middle School
Bottled water sits next to a disabled drinking fountain at East Rockford Middle School. (Oct. 12, 2017)


ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — Rockford Public Schools shut down drinking water fountains in one of its schools after another former Wolverine Worldwide dump site only about half a mile away was brought to state officials’ attention.

In a letter sent to parents Thursday morning, Superintendent Michael Shibler said the district was disabling all drinking fountains in East Rockford Middle School “out of an abundance of caution.”

In a Thursday news release, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said there is no evidence of contamination, but the school’s drinking water wells and some other properties adjacent to a former dump site recently identified near Ramsdell Drive NE between 9 Mile and 10 Mile roads are being tested as a precaution.

Shibler said Wolverine Worldwide and the DEQ collected water samples from the school’s well Wednesday. He said he will notify parents as soon as the expedited test results are available, likely within two weeks.

He added Wolverine Worldwide will be providing bottled water to students starting Thursday morning. The superintendent said the bottled water will also be used for cooking inside the school building until the district knows the status of its well water.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the toxic tap water investigation

HOMEOWNER REPORTED DUMP AFTER HEARING OF TAINTED WATER

Resident Janet Giersch discovered leather and rubber scraps covered by vegetation in a 50-by-50-foot area in the wooded area behind her home along Ramsdell about six years ago. Tests at the time found her well water was clean.

Then she heard about PFOS contamination around a former Wolverine Worldwide dump along House Street NE, so she reached out to the DEQ on Tuesday.

“When I saw the story at what’s going on at House Street, I was shocked,” she said. “And I called up the DEQ and I said, ‘I have leather scraps here that I thought were OK at the time, so what do I need to do?'”

The DEQ checked the site the next day and tested her water and the water at East Rockford Middle School, which is about a half a mile to the southeast. Eight homes in the area are also being tested for PFOS, a likely carcinogen previously used in waterproofing Wolverine Worldwide shoes.

“We want all the water tested to make sure that everybody’s got safe drinking water in the area, and for us, too,” Giersch said.

The property where is a former gravel pit. The previous homeowner told Giersch he had given a company working for Wolverine permission to dump old hides there more than 40 years ago.

“Recent experience in Kent County has demonstrated that these conditions may indicate the presence of PFCs in groundwater,” the DEQ stated Thursday.

Giersch said she now wants the mess on her property cleaned up.

“It would be nice if Wolverine would take it away. They would have to take down a bunch of trees, but it would be nice to know it’s not there anymore,” she said.

CONTAMINATION NEAR HOUSE STREET DUMP

The Ramsdell dump site is separate from Wolverine Worldwide’s old House Street NE dump, where the company discarded sludge from its Rockford tannery until about 1970. Earlier tests found high levels of PFOS in wells near the House Street dump — one at 38,000 parts per trillion, 542 times the EPA limit.

Wolverine Worldwide, Belmont, House Street, water contamination
Map: Sites in Belmont where wells have tested positive for PFOS contamination and their relation to a former Wolverine Worldwide dump.

PFOS has been linked to certain cancers, as well as pregnancy complications and childhood development problems, among other things. The Kent County Health Department is conducting its largest ever cancer cluster study around the House Street site and two other possible Wolverine dumps in the Rockford area.

Wolverine Worldwide also announced Thursday it would be providing whole house water filtration systems to 338 homes being tested in the Belmont area for PFOA and PFOS.

Wolverine Worldwide, House Street, buffer zone
Map: The “buffer zone” around a long-defunct Wolverine Worldwide dump believed to be causing well water contamination.

The company says it will be launching an information portal on its corporate website Friday where the community can find updates on the House Street situation, as well as answers to frequently asked questions. Homeowners eligible for whole house filter systems can contact Wolverine Worldwide at 616.866.5627 or at HouseStreet@wwwinc.com.

Belmont area residents can also contact the DEQ Environmental Assistance Center online or at 1.800.662.9278.