April 2, 2019
On March 29, more than 400 residents attended a townhall meeting in Rockford to hear from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding contamination from the Wolverine World Wide tannery in northern Kent County. The DEQ and EPA came together to share information from their joint investigation of the pollution that was identified at the sites in Rockford and Belmont. Data was presented from environmental sampling of the Rockford tannery site and the House Street Disposal Area, and from over 1,700 area residential water wells, all collected over the last 18 months to characterize the source areas of the contamination and determine the extent of the contaminated groundwater plumes. In addition to community members, media from across the state and around the globe were on hand during the meeting. Japanese public television network was in attendance filming as part of a program focusing on the impacts of PFAS contamination. A film crew from Michigan State University also interviewed staff and participants for a documentary. The impacted residents were also supported by their elected leaders, including U.S. Senators Peters and Stabenow, as well as State Senator MacGregor, State Representatives Rachel Hood and Lynn Afendoulis, and office staff from State Senator Winnie Brinks and State Representative Mark Huizenga.
It was found that the contamination came from Wolverine World Wide’s former tannery in Rockford, a waste dump known as the House Street Disposal Area in Belmont, and the Wolven/Jewell Source Area in Algoma Township. The pollution in these areas contains heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. Offsite, the PFAS contamination has affected groundwater, so filters and bottled water have been provided to impacted residents. DEQ remains the lead agency investigating PFAS contamination in groundwater, surface water, and drinking water. EPA is directing the investigation of other contamination (metals, VOCs, SVOCs) associated with Wolverine’s former tannery and the House Street Disposal Area. The Wolverine World Wide sites in north Kent County are among the largest PFAS investigation areas in the state of Michigan with over 20 square miles impacted by the contamination.
More than 20 DEQ staff were assigned to research Wolverine disposal practices during the 1950s and 60s. Staff spent long days taking phone calls and researching historical maps looking for potential dumps and landfills, walking the neighborhoods to meet with residents and past employees, and investigating potential disposal areas looking for hides, sludges, or other remnants of waste that would confirm use by Wolverine.
DEQ and EPA staff continue working side-by-side with residents and local agencies to provide safe drinking water, while conducting the investigations needed in to develop an effective, long-term remedy as soon as possible. DEQ’s highest priority is ensuring that residents with private wells are not drinking groundwater with combined concentrations of perfluoroalkyl (PFOA) and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFOS) exceeding or close to exceeding 70 parts per trillion (ppt).
As a temporary measure to lessen drinking water risks, Wolverine has installed whole-house filters in affected houses and bottled water has been offered to all residents located in a sampling area regardless of the groundwater concentrations. Work to identify and define impacted areas continues.
The townhall provided an opportunity for the residents to hear about the investigations conducted at both the Wolverine Tannery and House Street Disposal site, as well as the investigation in the Wolven/Jewell Source Area in Algoma Township. The environmental testing results of the thousands of samples collected were discussed in detail during the meeting. Both DEQ and EPA said that additional investigation is expected before feasibility studies and final remedies for the contamination can be selected. Additionally, a Community Advisory Group is in the process of being formed that will allow impacted residents and community members to be directly involved and informed of the investigation and response actions.
For additional information on the DEQ’s Wolverine PFAS investigation and to view the Townhall slide presentation, refer to the DEQ’s website at www.Michigan.gov/Belmont
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