Residents’ attorney files notice to sue Wolverine

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)

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — Wolverine Worldwide knew that the chemical in 3M’s Scotchgard was hazardous by the year 2000, and knew it was in its House Street landfill, but ignored the threat, according to a notice of violation and intention to sue filed by an attorney representing residents in Belmont.

“Wolverine turned a blind eye to the House Street dump,” the notice alleges. “It took acts of concerned citizens to prompt any action.”

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 notice to sue Wolverine was filed by Varnum attorney Aaron M. Phelps on Friday and sent to the U.S. EPA and the state DEQ.

“We’re doing an investigation, we’re trying to find out — like everybody else is — the scope of this, what Wolverine knew, why this wasn’t made public earlier,” Phelps told 24 Hour News 8 at a town hall meeting his firm held for Belmont residents Sunday. “And we hope to have more answers to that in the coming weeks.”

He said he expects more dump sites will be found.

The notice he filed Friday questioned Wolverine’s response in a Target 8 interview on Thursday.

“When Wolverine’s Senior Vice President, Christopher Hufnagel, was interviewed by a local news station, he was asked whether Wolverine had known about 3M’s discontinuance of PFAS since the early 2000s,” the notice states. “As the interviewer put it, Mr. Hufnagel ‘repeatedly refused to discuss’ this topic, and instead Mr. Hufnagel said that Wolverine was only looking to the future at this point.

“Presumably, Wolverine looked into the answer to that question but did not like the answer that it found,” the notice alleges.

The notice says residents are demanding Wolverine clean up its former legally operated dump site on House Street NE in Belmont and provide whole-house filters to anybody in the path of the potential plume of contamination.

>>Inside Target 8 investigation into toxic tap water

Wolverine started using 3M’s Scotchgard in 1958 to waterproof its shoes.

Sludge from Rockford’s tannery was dumped in trenches at the House Street landfill until it closed in about 1970.

In 2000, 3M started phasing out production of PFAS, the chemical it used in Scotchgard. By 2005, the EPA was calling the chemical a possible carcinogen.

The notice says tests have found PFAS in the wells of 36 homes around the House Street dump, including 15 over the EPA advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion.

The highest level, across the street from the dump, was nearly 38,000 parts per trillion — 142 times the limit. The contamination has spread at least 1.3 miles.

The notice alleges Wolverine had an agenda during its investigation of the House Street dump: “Downplay the results, make sure the finger is not pointed at Wolverine, and do not let the scope of testing expand. Wolverine was clearly hoping it could once again ignore the imminent and substantial endangerment to the health and environment that Wolverine’s waste was causing.”

The DEQ also is investigating other sites where Wolverine waste was dumped decades ago, including Cannonsburg Road NE (now the site of Boulder Creek Golf Course) and 12 Mile Road NE near the White Pine Trail.

Map shows the Wolverine Worldwide dumpsites located in Kent County.

The latest site is about a half-mile from East Rockford Middle School, which uses well water. That discovery last week led the school to stop using its water.

Wolverine has agreed to install whole-house filtration systems to all 338 homes being tested around the House Street dump. They said it could cost the company nearly $1.7 million.

But the notice said that is not enough.

It says Wolverine is refusing to retest homes that tested negative for the chemical, has not agreed to pay for city water, hasn’t agreed to maintain or monitor water filters or whole-house filtration systems, hasn’t agreed to pay for blood tests or medical monitoring for residents who want to know if the chemical is in their systems, hasn’t agreed to provide protection for others who might be in the path of the contamination.

“People wouldn’t have needed these (medical) tests done if the PFAS hadn’t been put into the ground water to begin with,” Phelps told 24 Hour News 8. “So it’s only fair that Wolverine pay for whatever medical monitoring, testing that needs to be done. In particular, almost all of our clients want blood tests done to determine their levels of this chemical in their blood.”

The notice is demanding the government require Wolverine to remove all the contamination on the site, set it aside, install a liner for a hazardous waste landfill, return the waste and cap it.

“Wolverine’s lack of action shows that it does not sincerely have regard for the public’s health, but rather is more concerned about its bottom line,” the notice alleges.

–24 Hour News 8 photojournalist Zach Horner contributed to this report.