Toxic tap water: ‘They chose to play with my life’

Target 8 learned Wolverine Worldwide was informed of chemical hazard in 1999

Sandy Wynn-Stelt, toxic tap water
Sandy Wynn-Stelt, whose well was found to be contaminated with high levels of PFOS, speaks with Target 8 investigator Ken Kolker. (Nov. 4, 2017)


PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Sandy Wynn-Stelt lives in the toxic bull’s-eye across from Wolverine Worldwide’s former House Street dump.

She’s angry after Target 8 revealed Wolverine knew nearly 20 years ago that the Scotchgard it used to treat its shoes contained PFOS, a chemical now considered a likely carcinogen.

“It makes me want to throw up,” Wynn-Stelt said. “You know, we moved here in ’92, and I remember then, Joel was so healthy.”

Joel was her husband, her best friend, who died of cancer last year.

In January 1999, seven years after Sandy Wynn-Stelt and her husband moved to House Street in Belmont, Scotchgard manufacturer 3M faxed Wolverine a letter. The letter, obtained Friday by Target 8, notified Wolverine about potential hazards of the PFOS in the Scotchard Wolverine had used for decades on its shoes and had dumped along House Street and elsewhere.

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

Wynn-Stelt’s PFOS levels are by far the highest around — 38,000 parts per trillion, 542 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory limit.

She didn’t know until recently she was living across from the old dump.

“Had we known, had they just put a letter in my mailbox that said, ‘There could be toxic waste there,’ then the responsibility would have been on us,” she said.

They could have installed their own filtration system or moved.

“I just feel like it was a kick in the stomach because I just keep going back to had I known, maybe things would have been different,” she said. “And so they chose to play with my life so that they could make profits, they chose to ignore what happened so that they could make profits, not realizing how it affected everybody on this street.”

Neighbors, she said, wouldn’t have built homes with wells.

“In ’99, had they told people, my neighbor wouldn’t be worrying about his three kids, my other neighbors wouldn’t be worrying about their miscarriages, and I might have my husband here,” Wynn-Stelt said. “So to do that, there is a special place in hell for people who do that.”

Her husband died of liver cancer in March 2016, three weeks after he was diagnosed.

“I wonder even if it wasn’t directly related, drinking this toxic water didn’t help him,” Wynn-Stelt said. “Everything goes through your liver. Your liver is what filters everything, so knowing he was drinking this, it didn’t help it.”

Wolverine started using Scotchgard with PFOS in 1960 to treat shoes, then dumped its waste along House Street and other places, like ravines. The House Street dump closed in 1970. Tests this year started finding PFOS and related PFOA in wells as far as a mile away. Testing continues.

The state is now looking at 57 sites where Wolverine sludge may have been dumped.

>>App users: Interactive map of toxic tap water

Wolverine has said it only recently learned that Scotchgard contained PFOS until 3M changed the formula in 2002.

In 2005, the EPA called PFOS a possible carcinogen.

At Target 8’s request, 3M sent this statement on Friday: “We are surprised to see that Wolverine claims it was unaware of the fact that PFOS was used at its former tannery and, apparently, that it was unaware of 3M’s voluntary decision to phase out of the chemistries in question. The record reflects otherwise.”

“3M bears no responsibility for the environmental practices of Wolverine,” 3M attorney William A. Brewer III said.

In response, Wolverine is now saying it did know about PFOS and didn’t mean to infer otherwise.

“It’s always the cover-up; it’s never the crime,” Wynn-Stelt responded.

She’s also angry because she had been supporting Wolverine over its response. The company just installed a whole-house water filtration system in her home, part of a pledge to do so for more than 300 homes near the House Street site.

“And now I feel like I was duped,” she said. “They just need to fix this. They just need to make it right.”

In a statement released to Target 8, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said it was unaware of the 1999 3M letter.

The DEQ said it is “looking forward to discussing with WWW how this new information correlates to the background information they previously have provided to us.”

The state also released a new list of deadlines for Wolverine to respond to the contamination.

RESOURCES FOR BELMONT RESIDENTS:

If you are eligible for a whole-house water filtration system from Wolverine Worldwide, you can call 616.866.5627 or email HouseStreet@wwwinc.com.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Environmental Assistance Center can be reached at 1.800.662.9278.

Websites with additional information on the contamination: