‘Waiting and waiting’: Slow going in dump cleanup

Work at one dump site maybe linked to well contamation taking longer than expected

Belmont, Wolverine Worldwide, illegal dump site
A rusty barrel at an illegal Wolverine Worldwide dump site off House Street NE in Belmont. (Oct. 16, 2017)


PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The cleanup effort at an illegal dump site north of Grand Rapids where Wolverine Worldwide sludge was discarded decades ago appears to be running behind schedule.

The illegal site is along House Street NE in Belmont, across the street from a legal Wolverine landfill that hasn’t been used since the 1970s. Wolverine waste is believed to be the source of PFOS contamination in wells as far as 1.3 miles away. PFOS, previously used in waterproofing Wolverine’s Hush Puppies, is a likely carcinogen that has also been linked to other health problems.

Crews started working last week to remove waste from the illegal dump, which is on Michigan Department of Transportation property. They’ve already dug up and removed 21 partially buried rusty barrels and about 40 yards of leather scraps.

Wolverine Worldwide, illegal dump site, Belmont
An illegal Wolverine Worldwide dump site off House Street NE in Belmont is cordoned off as crews work to clean it up. (Oct. 16, 2017)

But it’s taking longer than crews thought it would. A company working with Wolverine told some residents Monday that the cleanup at the illegal site had expanded and would likely take several more days than initially expected.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said it does appear that there’s more waste at the illegal dump than previously thought. The DEQ added the landscape — a wooded ravine — has made the work difficult for crews and the weekend rain also slowed the process.

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That’s apparently causing cleanup at more sites to be pushed back and frustrating some neighbors who are already worried about their health after years or even decades drinking tainted well water. Among those frustrated residents are Marlene and Mel Nylaan, who have lived along Imperial Pine Drive off House Street for 17 years. A second illegal dump is only a few hundred feet from the end of their driveway.

“You keep waiting and waiting and wondering what’s happening,” Marlene Nylaan said. “I think it’s worse than what they thought.”

She said she was previously told cleanup at the dump near her home would start Monday, but is now being told it may not begin until later this week at the earliest.

Testing found the PFOS level in the Nylaans’ well was about 98 parts per trillion, which is slightly above the Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion.

The Nylaans have hired a lawyer and are trying to stay positive — but they’re concerned about their water, their health and their home value.

“You worry something’s going to happen,” Marlene Nylaan said. “Wait for the next shoe to fall and it’s not going to be Wolverine’s.”

A Wolverine Worldwide representative is supposed to visit Tuesday to install a whole-house filtration system. The Rockford-based shoe company has promised to pay for those filtration systems for all 338 homes within a “buffer zone” around the legal House Street dump.

Marlene Nylaan said she wants Wolverine “to make it right.”

“I see they’re trying, I guess,” she said, “but things move so slow.”