News Feature | October 3, 2017

Tannery Pollution Plagues Michigan Wells Without Long-Term Solution In Sight

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

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Shoe manufacturer Wolverine World Wide is under fire for polluting drinking water in Rockford, MI, and its overtures about resolving the problem have done little to reassure locals.

As Water Online’s Peter Chawaga recently reported, samples have showed perfluorinated compound (PFC) contamination at 400 times above U.S. EPA-advised limits.

“Toxic chemicals from industrial waste dumped in unlined trenches at a long-forgotten landfill have turned up this year in private residential drinking water wells north of Grand Rapids, and public health officials worry the contamination may have been occurring unnoticed for decades,” reported MLive.com.

Residents have major concerns about the company’s efforts to fix the problem. Anxious questions from locals arose at a recent forum on the issue.

“How long do the chemicals linger in someone's body? Are vegetables grown with polluted water safe to eat? Will the township extend municipal water mains? What is the long term safe water solution? Why didn't Wolverine disclose the dump site existence sooner? Will the contamination eventually be cleaned up?” MLive reported.

A Wolverine official told residents the company is seeking to restore “confidence” in their water.

"It's too early to say what the long-term solution is," Christopher Hufnagel, senior vice president and head of corporate strategy at Wolverine, told the crowd. "As we sit here today, Wolverine is not taking anything off the table."

The company has spent half-a-million dollars on its response. But it still refused to commit to certain solutions.

For instance, the commitment did not pay “for extension of Plainfield Township municipal water mains or installing whole house filtration systems on homes with polluted wells,” the report said.

State environmental regulators are overseeing an investigation into the contamination.

"We are holding Wolverine accountable and will continue to do so until all the wells are tested, we know where the plume is and who is going to be impacted," said DEQ project manager Karen Vorce, per MLive.

A study released in June by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Northeastern University in Boston shows PFCs are found in “drinking water for 15 million Americans in 27 states,” Time reported.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "water faucet," karen nador © 2002, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/