Neighbors foot the bill to find chemical in water

Low levels of likely carcinogen found in wells along Bittersweet Drive NE

Plainfield Township, illegal dump site
A dump site off House Street NE in Plainfield Township. (September 2017)


PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — When residents in one Plainfield Township neighborhood were told their area wasn’t contaminated with a likely carcinogen linked to shoe manufacturing waste, they were skeptical and decided to find out for themselves.

When 24 Hour News 8 talked to the neighbors on Bittersweet Drive NE in October, they were certain that waste from Rockford-based Wolverine Worldwide has been dumped nearby. The litany of sicknesses had them convinced there was something in their water.

They wanted to see their well water tested. When no one at Wolverine, the state or the county would do it, they shelled out the $1,300 each to do it themselves.

“I just want to know what’s in my water. I’m scared,” said Cindy Burden, who lives on the street north of Boulder Creek Golf Club and a block away from where the municipal water lines stop, leaving her with well water.

“There’s a lady that’s two houses down, she died of cancer. The woman next door to us, she’s got cancer now. Down the street, she has MS and her husband had bladder cancer. Across the street, there’s been a couple of deaths and a woman with liver cancer. The young boy over here had leukemia. They’ve moved out now. And everybody’s got stomach problems,” Burden said in October.

Several neighbors paid to have testing done and the tests showed PFOS, the likely carcinogen, in the water — though at levels far below the federal advisory limit.

Other homes closer to Wolverine’s former dump site have tested above that limit — far above. Wolverine is providing clean water and has a program to pay for whole-house water filtration systems for hundreds of homes in neighborhoods in Plainfield and Algoma townships where contamination has been found, but not the area around Bittersweet.

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

“To tell people who live adjacent to a dump site and who have contaminated water that they’re not affected by this is insulting to them,” said Aaron Phleps, an attorney with the Varnum Law Firm, which is representing clients with claims against Wolverine. “Our law firm gets results back from people who are doing self-tests really all over the county and many of them come back in areas that previously haven’t been on any map.”

The next step for the neighbors is to get blood tests that will cost them another $800 out of pocket for testing at a California lab.

“We can’t assume that we’re near the end of it. This stuff was dumped by Wolverine all over the place and we just don’t know the extent of it right now,” Phelps said. “The blood testing’s important because it’s going to tell you what’s in your body. What’s in your well could vary greatly over time.”

The blood tests are the only way to determine if the PFOS is linked to these people’s health concerns.

Wolverine has said it is committed to determining where the contamination happened and to meeting its responsibility to the community.

Meanwhile, the neighbors along Bittersweet say they would like to get municipal water, which Plainfield Township is looking in to expanding. The township wants Wolverine to pay for the work, but the company has so far not agreed that.

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: