Residents angry as Wolverine appears to downplay PFAS impact


PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP — Tom and Terry Hula were one of the first families to move next to Wolverine Worldwide’s old House Street dump in Belmont 27 years ago.

“Out here, our properties have been very special, very Norman Rockwell to us, and it’s not the same,” Terry Hula said on Friday. “It’s not the same for us.”

On Friday, they were angry to learn that Wolverine was apparently downplaying the potential health risks of PFAS that came from the dump and into their well, along with wells of homes more than two miles away.

“You can’t put some kind of chemical in your water, drink it for 25 years and not think there’s going to be some kind of health effects,” Tom Hula said.

The Hulas have developed health issues recently.

“I had some tumors removed from the back of my neck,” Tom Hula said, adding they were benign. His wife said she also has developed benign tumors.

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He said his oldest daughter had complications involving preeclampsia with all three of her pregnancies. He said two of her children have immune system problems.

His other daughter, he said, is “now showing signs of Parkinson’s, which concerns me.”

His wife said she is going in for more tests next week for kidney problems.

Their well has more than 180 parts per trillion of PFAS — more than double the EPA’s advisory level of 70 ppt for drinking water.

On Wolverine’s blog, the company quotes its own expert, Dr. Janet Anderson, a board-certified toxicologist.

“Human health effects from exposure to PFAS in the environment are unknown. There is no human study that has been conducted that proves exposure of an individual to any PFAS, including PFOA or PFOS, causes any illness,” according to the blog.

“People can be exposed to PFAS through many different ways, but the primary sources of exposure for the general population are food and household materials like carpet and upholstery,” the blog states.

Attorneys representing more than 100 residents with contaminated wells, including the Hulas, fired back on their Facebook page.

“Wolverine’s recent propaganda on ‘We Are Wolverine’ is disrespectful,” according to the Facebook page. “It disregards the truth, and it disregards all of you in Belmont and Rockford who are living with this horrible situation every minute of every hour of every day.”

Local attorney Aaron Phelps, who is representing residents, said he expects to file a lawsuit against Wolverine by the end of the year.

“People are understandably concerned about their health and to go out and suggest that is not something that people should be concerned about, it’s a slap in the face,” Phelps said.

“Naturally they’re trying to minimize their exposure, they’re trying to minimize the problem. I don’t agree with it, I don’t think it’s responsible. On one hand, Wolverine is saying this is an emerging contaminant and we know so little about it, on the other hand they feel more than comfortable to tell people not to worry, and I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

Harvard University says even small amounts of PFAS are bad for children, and the state of Michigan warns against drinking water with any PFAS if you live near a dump.

The EPA and Centers for Disease Control both list possible health risks, including cancer.

A study of nearly 70,000 people in a contaminated area in the Ohio River Valley found probable links to some health problems: including thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

“A 69,000-person study,” Phelps said. “This isn’t made up, it’s not a figment of the residents’ imagination.”

Wolverine used Scotchgard, which contained PFAS, to treat shoes starting in the late 1950s. 3M stopped using PFAS in 2002.

Wolverine dumped sludge from its tannery until 1970 at its landfill on House Street in Belmont, where contamination has spread into drinking wells more than two miles away.

It also dumped in other places around Rockford, including farm fields, contaminating some wells there.

Wolverine has said 30 wells around the House Street dump have tested over the EPA’s advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion. Many others have lower levels.

“Another thing Wolverine has done to minimize this is to claim that these contaminants are everywhere: They’re in carpets, they’re in fabrics,” Phelps, the attorney, said. “That may be. We don’t eat our carpets, we don’t eat our furniture, we don’t eat the shoes. We do drink the water.”

The Hulas said they wished Wolverine had told them years ago about the danger next door.

“As a parent, had I known the risks of anything being in the water, whether I knew it was toxic or not, I just wouldn’t have fed it to my children,” Terry Hula said.

Wolverine said it has installed more than 125 whole-house filters in the House Street dump area. It is installing 338 filters in the areas closest to the dump. The company also said it will install whole-house filters in homes with PFAS in an area southeast of the dump.

Phelps said he has written the company a letter asking that it install whole-house filters in other contamination zones, including near Wolven Avenue NE between 10 and 11 Mile roads, where a private test found 2,400 ppt of PFAS in a well.

In a statement released Friday to Target 8, Wolverine said it is “working with the MDEQ to understand the possible presence, sources, and impacts of any PFOA or PFOS in areas outside of the House Street area. All homeowners in these areas have already been provided with bottled water, and that will continue while additional sampling results come in and we gather the facts and information necessary to make additional decisions.”

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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: