DEQ sues to formalize toxic tap water response

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

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The state has taken legal action to make sure Wolverine Worldwide keeps complying with orders in and funding the response to the toxic tap water crisis in Kent County.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said the lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday is a formality to set up future expectations and timelines for the Rockford-based shoe manufacturer. It also lays the groundwork for possible civil fines.

Wolverine has been cooperating with the DEQ, footing the bills for PFAS testing in wells, bottled water and whole-house water filtration systems for hundreds of affected properties in Plainfield and Algoma townships. The suit would give the DEQ the power to force Wolverine to keep up its response and financial backing in the long run.

Also Wednesday, the EPA announced it is ordering Wolverine to conduct more tests of the soil, groundwater and river sediment at the site of its former tannery in Rockford and the House Street dump for hazardous substances including arsenic, chromium, mercury and ammonia.

>>PDF: Cleanup order from EPA

In a Wednesday release, Wolverine said it remained committed to working with the DEQ and Environmental Protection Agency on contamination response.

“We have been working collaboratively with the MDEQ and EPA to address their concerns and implement solutions to give the community confidence in its water. The anticipated actions by the MDEQ and EPA stem from efforts already underway and formalize the work and testing already being done by Wolverine,” ‎Chris Hufnagel, the company’s senior vice president and head of strategy, said in a statement. “This is our hometown and these are our friends, families and neighbors. We are committed to doing the right thing and seeing this through to the end.”

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

The suit comes one day after the DEQ set a standard for the amount of PFAS in groundwater. That limit was set at 70 parts per trillion, the same as the EPA’s advisory limit for drinking water.

Also Tuesday, Target 8 learned tests found PFAS levels much higher than that in the blood of a woman who has lived across from Wolverine’s main waste disposal site on House Street in Belmont for more than two decades, as well as the blood of a 20-month-old boy who lives in the area.

PFAS is a likely carcinogen that has also been linked to a number of other illnesses. It accumulates in the body over time and takes years to leave the body. But what exactly high levels of PFAS in blood mean for someone has never been conclusively proven.

Wolverine waste was dumped at the House Street landfill and other areas before 1970. The sludge contained Scotchgard, which Wolverine used to waterproof shoes and which contained PFAS. It wasn’t until last year that contamination was discovered in residential wells, 78 of which have since tested above 70 ppt. Now, area where the state is looking into PFAS contamination is five miles long and five miles wide.

Dozens of homeowners with contaminated wells have sued Wolverine and a federal class-action suit has also been filed against the company.

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: