Class-action suit: Wolverine dumped at GR landfill

First federal class-action suit filed in connection to toxic tap water in Belmont

Butterworth Landfill, Grand Rapids
The former Butterworth Landfill in Grand Rapids. (Dec. 4, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Wolverine Worldwide is facing its first federal class-action lawsuit in connection to the dumping of waste at the center of well contamination concerns north of Grand Rapids.

In a 52-page lawsuit filed Friday, the eight plaintiffs on board so far say they are worried not only about their private property and wells, but also the potential impact that Wolverine tannery and manufacturing waste may have on municipal water systems in Kent County — though there is no evidence that the city water systems of either Rockford or Grand Rapids were tainted.

The contaminated wells identified so far are all in the Belmont area and elsewhere around Rockford, but the suit says one of the places the shoe manufacturer dumped toxic chemicals was the old Butterworth Landfill within Grand Rapids’ city limits. The landfill, which now links some Kent County trails, is on the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Superfund Sites in Michigan; that program is aimed at redevelopment of hazardous or contaminated land.

The chemical discovered in residential wells causing the most concern is PFAS, which could previously be found in the Scotchgard that Wolverine used to waterproof shoes. PFAS is a likely carcinogen and has also been linked to other illnesses — though Wolverine has seemed to downplay the potential health risks. Regardless, the company is offering to foot the bill for whole-house water filtration systems for hundreds of homes in Plainfield and Algoma townships where contamination has been detected.

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

Among other things, the twelve-count lawsuit against Wolverine, Scotchgard manufacturer 3M and Waste Management alleges negligence leading to serious health problems, private and public nuisance because of the companies’ reckless behavior and product liability problems. The suit also claims battery, saying the companies “willfully, wantonly and recklessly” dumped toxic chemicals that directly harmed the plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs claim Wolverine failed to fix a defective design even though the company knew about it and never warned residents near dumps there may be danger.

The lawsuit says Waste Management, which owns a separate landfill along the East Beltline in Plainfield Township, failed to make sure toxic chemicals never reached aquifers and drinking water supplies, nor did it work to remediate the area.

The suit noted the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is looking in to reports of possible Wolverine dumping at 75 sites — though it’s important to note that only a fraction of those have been confirmed. The state has not provided a list of the locations it is investigating.

Eight other individual lawsuits have already been filed against Wolverine, and lawyers say there will likely be more.

>>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:

*Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that Waste Management owned the old Butterworth Landfill. Waste Management actually owns a separate landfill in Plainfield Township. The text has been updated. We regret the error.