Wolverine spending millions this year on tainted water response

Contamination in northern Kent County blamed on shoemaker's old dumps

The site of an old Wolverine Worldwide waste site off House Street in Plainfield Township. (Aug. 30, 2017)


PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Wolverine Worldwide said it expects to spend up to $3 million over the remainder of the year on its response to contamination from former dump sites in northern Kent County.

In a conference call on its third-quarter earnings, the company said it already has spent about $500,000.

“Frankly, from our point of view, these are our families, our friends and our neighbors and we’ve been as proactive as possible and conservative and transparent,” Blake Krueger, the president and CEO of the Rockford-based shoe manufacturer, said during the conference call.

Wolverine used 3M’s Scotchgard for years at its now-closed Rockford tannery to waterproof footwear.

“Really no different than millions of other consumers and thousands of other businesses that have used Scotchgard,” Krueger said.

Sludge from that tannery was dumped on Wolverine property on House Street NE in Plainfield Township.

“For a number of years, we’ve learned that 3M’s Scotchgard contained PFAS,” Krueger said. “I won’t get into this family of chemicals, but they’re now considered, I guess the best term would be an emerging contaminant.

“The chemical is pervasive in our environment. One study said about 98 percent of people in the U.S. have some of this in their body.”

PFAS is now considered a likely carcinogen that also has been linked to other health problems.

This year, tests showed high levels of PFAS in wells near Wolverine’s House Street dump, which closed in 1970. It has been detected in wells more than a mile away.

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

During Wednesday’s conference call, the first question asked of Wolverine leaders centered around the contamination.

“I’m hoping you can comment on the investigation into the environmental contamination at the former tannery locations,” analyst Jim Duffy of Stifel Nicolaus asked. “Where are you guys in your own investigation of this, are there any expenses related to this to date and do you have any preliminary thoughts on potential future liabilities and how you might reserve for that?”

The CEO said Wolverine has detected PFAS in groundwater around “several disposal sites.”

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said it is investigating up to 57 possible dump sites, though it said it expects not all of them will involve Wolverine.

“As a company, we have taken a very proactive and conservative approach,” Krueger said. “We’ve supplied alternative sources of water to people that might be affected or people that even have a nondetect in their house.”

Wolverine has provided water to residents who live near the former House Street dump in Belmont. The company is paying nearly $1.7 million to install whole-house filters at more than 300 homes.

Target 8 revealed last week that 3M informed Wolverine in a letter in 1999 about the potential hazards of PFAS. Three years later, 3M changed the Scotchgard formula. Wolverine had previously said it only recently learned that Scotchgard contained PFAS. In response to that report, Wolverine released a statement saying it had been aware of PFAS in Scotchgard and didn’t mean to “infer” otherwise.

“I think the local reporting has been fair, but some of the local reporting has been irresponsible and sensationalized,” Krueger said in the conference call. “We’re taking a more calm, reasoned and proactive approach to make sure everybody’s drinking water is considered safe by them to relieve some of the anxiety that exists.”

>>App users: Interactive map of toxic tap water

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: