Toxic chemicals turning up in wells near Wolverine Worldwide

(Courtesy/City of Rockford)

By Associated Press

November 14, 2023

ROCKFORD—Tests show toxic chemicals in wells near the headquarters of a western Michigan shoe manufacturer, years after the company dredged and transferred river sediment from a leather-processing tannery.

There is no dispute Wolverine Worldwide used a 3M Co. waterproofing product that contained PFAS, known as “forever chemicals,” and has settled lawsuits over land and well contamination in the Rockford area, north of Grand Rapids.

But now there’s a new development: at least 27 properties have contaminated wells in Courtland Township near company headquarters in Rockford, MLive.com reported.

“It’s early on and we’re still kind of waiting to figure out what the extent is and what the best action to take is,” said Matt McCannon, the township’s elected supervisor. “We have avoided it up until now.”

Wolverine posted a statement online last week, saying it had state approval to “occasionally dredge sediment from the Rogue River in front of our former tannery to ensure proper operation of the water intake pipes.”

The sediment was then placed at headquarters property in the 1980s and early 2000s, Wolverine said.

“We are actively working to identify and delineate the sediment, and will coordinate with EGLE to determine any next steps,” Wolverine said, referring to state regulators.

The well at Janet Washburn’s home greatly exceeds the state’s threshold for risky chemicals. She said she has had kidney cancer and other health problems.

“We’ve always eaten right. We don’t drink, we don’t smoke, and I used to say to my husband, ‘How can we be so medically challenged when we take good care of ourselves?'” said Washburn, who is in her 70s and has lived in her home for 46 years.

The Kent County health department is giving affected residents a kitchen water filter.

PFAS were used to make Scotchgard, a 3M waterproofing product used by Wolverine, which has a number of brands, including Hush Puppies, Merrell, Keds, Saucony and Chaco.

In 2019, Michigan authorities announced a $69.5 million deal with Wolverine that included an extension of public water to areas in northern Kent County where PFAS-laced sludge was dumped. Wolverine said Minnesota-based 3M was covering much of that agreement.

Three years later, in 2022, there was a separate $54 million settlement involving 3M, Wolverine and owners of 1,700 properties in the county.

READ MORE: Nessel sues airport authority over PFAS contamination

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