High levels of PFAS found in water in new area

Chemical now believed to be likely carcinogen was used to waterproof shoes

A well in the area of Elstner Avenue NE in Algoma Township. (Nov. 14, 2017)


ALGOMA TOWNSHIP (WOOD) — As Wolverine Worldwide begins testing wells in a new PFAS dump site, Target 8 has learned that one private well in the area already has tested with high levels of the likely carcinogen.

Test results paid for by a resident on Elstner Avenue, near 11 Mile Road and Wolven Avenue NE in Algoma Township, showed a combined PFAS level of 2,430 parts per trillion, 35 times the Environmental Protection Agency advisory limit for drinking water.

11 Mile Road, Wolven Avenue
Photo: A 1967 aerial photo shows the area of 11 Mile Road near Elstner and Wolven avenues. (Courtesy: Kent Conservation District)

That’s the highest known level in a residential well outside the study area around Wolverine’s former House Street dump site in Belmont, where PFAS contamination has spread in wells for more than a mile, raising fears of cancer and other illnesses. Wolverine used Scotchgard with PFAS for years to treat shoes at its Rockford tannery.

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Wolverine announced Tuesday it was testing 175 wells for PFAS in the area of Wolven between 10 Mile and 11 Mile roads. They include homes in the high-end Wellington Ridge and 43 North neighborhoods built on former farmland.

“I actually didn’t think it would come this far,” said Brenda Waite, who lives on Elstner Avenue.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Melanie Brown said the agency asked Wolverine to test wells based on independent test results from a few homeowners. At the DEQ’s request, she said, Wolverine is providing bottled water for residents.

Longtime resident Richard Geldhof, who lives on Elstner, said he tipped off the DEQ in October that farmers spread tannery sludge on their fields in the area in the 1950s and 1960s.

Richard Geldhof
Photo: Richard Geldhof. (Nov. 14, 2017)

Wolverine said reports show farmers applied the tannery sludge to fields for its lime content.

“Back then, it was how our grandfathers got rid of it,” Geldhof said. “It was legal to do; there was nothing illegal about it.”

Geldhof said his wife grew up on a farm on Elstner and recalled the dumping.

“She said they would dump it when they were in school, come home and get a big whiff of it because it hadn’t been spread yet,” Geldhof said.

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The new site is among 75 the state says it is checking in its Wolverine investigation, most of those based on tips. Some involve farmland where Wolverine sludge was used for fertilizer.

Geldhof recalled excavators turning up the sludge when they started work on the Wellington Ridge neighborhood next door 20 years ago. He said the dumping is coming back to haunt Wolverine and residents.

“It sure is because we don’t know the concentrations of it,” he said. “How far has it spread?”

Geldhof said he’s more worried about his neighbors than himself. He and his wife, he says, are healthy.

“I could have it in my well, but until I get test results showing what is there, I prefer to do nothing,” he said.

Wolverine said it expects to start testing wells in the new area later this week. Residents should expect results within four weeks of testing.

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: