Rockford Tannery, Rockford, Kent County

Updated: September 11, 2019

Aerial View of Rockford Tannery, Rockford, Kent CountyBackground

The former Wolverine World Wide (Wolverine) tannery is located on the east bank of the Rogue River at the confluence of Rum Creek, in downtown Rockford.  The tannery operated for over a hundred years before operations ceased in 2009.  The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and USEPA are coordinating their investigation of the tannery pollution found in the Rockford area.

Recent Accomplishments

  • As requested by EGLE and USEPA, in May 2019 Wolverine begin installing informational signs along the Rogue River, with informational kiosks being installed in June and July 2019.
  • Wolverine is in the process of implementing their June 3, 2019 Work Plan (response to the USEPA April 29, 2019 letter). This work will also include actions to remove soils and buried leather scraps impacted with PFAS on the site and along the Rogue River beginning in the Fall 2019.
  • In August 2019, Wolverine obtained their permit from the North Kent Sewer Authority (NKSA) for NKSA to accept the treated groundwater from the proposed groundwater treatment system that will intercept the PFAS contaminated groundwater before it enters into the Rogue River. Wolverine reports that they are in the final stage of the groundwater system design.

Next Steps

  • Weekly project coordination meeting with Wolverine/GZA and EGLE.
  • Wolverine will implement their work plans for off-site investigation (drilling monitoring wells) and interim response activities to address the PFAS contaminated groundwater discharging to the Rogue River and Rum Creek.

Residential Well Testing/Alternate Water Information

  • The area surrounding the tannery in downtown Rockford is serviced by municipal water. The off-site groundwater investigation is continuing.
  • EGLE has sampled all municipal water supplies for PFAS. View the results for the city of Rockford.

Upcoming Community Engagement

  • USEPA Community Advisory Group Meetings:

    • September 19: 6-8:30pm; Plainfield Township Hall Board Room
    • October 17: 6-8:30pm; Plainfield Township Hall Board Room
Sampling: PFOS and PFOA Only

Type of Sample

Date Sampled

Number of Samples

Number of Results Received

Number of Non-detects

Number Between Non-detect and standard*

Number of > Standard


Aug 31, 2017 -
Apr 2019
280 280 5 20 254
Surface Water Sep 14, 2017 -
Nov 30, 2018
46 46 11 20 15
Cumulative   326 326 17 40 269

*Groundwater results are compared to EGLE Part 201 Criteria of 70 ppt PFOS+PFOA.
*Surface water results are compared to Rule 57 surface water quality values of 12 ppt PFOS and 12,000 ppt PFOA.

Sampling notes

  • Other PFAS analytes were detected in samples. There are no federal or state standards for these analytes.
  • Sediments, pore water, surface water foam, and soil samples have also been collected from this site. PFAS was detected in all types of samples. There are no criteria for these media.
  • A “Do Not Eat the Foam” advisory was issued by the Kent County Health Department in June 2018 for the Rogue River near the tannery.

Rockford Tannery Historical Timeline

The former Wolverine World Wide (Wolverine) tannery is located on the east bank of the Rogue River at the confluence of Rum Creek, in downtown Rockford.  The tannery operated for over a hundred years before operations ceased in 2009.

The tannery was demolished in 2010 and 2011. During and subsequent to the demolition, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) received complaints from a citizen group alleging several violations of the state environmental statute including nuisance air emissions, storm water violations, hazardous substance releases, solid waste violations, and violations of water quality rules.

In response to the allegations from the citizen group beginning in June 2010, EGLE staff from the Waste Management and Radiological Protection Division, Water Resources Division, Air Quality Division, Remediation and Redevelopment Division, and the Office of Criminal Investigations took numerous calls, met with representatives of the citizen group, conducted site inspections and followed up with representatives of Wolverine.  EGLE was unable to find substantive violations.

  • In June 2011, the citizen’s group petitioned the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) to perform a preliminary assessment (PA) of the site.The PA was completed in June 2012 and the USEPA referred the site to EGLE for further investigation.
  • Wolverine conducted a post-demolition environmental investigation of soils and groundwater in 2011.
  • Soil, groundwater and sediment samples were collected at the Tannery Site by Wolverine and by EGLE’s Superfund Section and were analyzed for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs), metals, ammonia, nitrites, chloride, phosphorous, sulfate, sulfide and/or cyanide.VOCs, SVOCs, metals, ammonia and cyanide were detected above criteria and/or sediment screening levels.
  • Wolverine conducted additional investigations in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016 to better define the extent of contamination.Buried hides and leather scraps were discovered during these investigations.
  • In the Fall 2016, the citizens group shared with Wolverine that a fish advisory had been issued for the Rogue River for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and that Wolverine may have used products in their leather processing that contained these compounds. 
  • Wolverine sampled groundwater and surface water for PFAS in Summer and Fall 2017.PFOA and PFOS were detected in the groundwater and surface water at up to 490,000 ppt and 12 ppt respectively.Total tested PFAS concentrations detected in groundwater were up to 532,399 ppt.
  • December 2017 Wolverine conducted additional on-site investigation work and submitted a work plan for an off-site investigation.
  • January 2018, EGLE filed a legal complaint against Wolverine under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and state law, including Part 201 (Environmental Remediation) in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan. In the complaint, the state seeks orders that Wolverine institute protective measures to mitigate risks to public health, continue environmental investigations, address PFAS contamination in ground and surface water and pay for the state’s past and future costs associated with enforcement of state clean up laws.
  • January 2018, the USEPA issued a Unilateral Administrative Order (UAO) against Wolverine to conduct further assessment of non-PFAS contamination and potential cleanup work at its former tannery and at the House Street Disposal locations.
  • January – April 2018, Wolverine installed additional on-site monitoring wells at the Tannery Site, collected groundwater samples, and collected surface water samples from the Rogue River. This sampling data was provided to EGLE in June 2018.
  • June 2018, The Kent County Health Department and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a health advisory warning people to avoid consuming the floating foam on top of the water of the Rogue River due to high PFAS levels.This was issued based on results from foam samples collected by EGLE.
  • May 2018, EGLE requested Wolverine analyze for PFAS at all sampling locations being completed under the USEPA UAO. This sampling was conducted in Summer and Fall 2018.
  • June 29, 2018, Wolverine submitted a workplan for off-site PFAS groundwater investigation at the Tannery Site. EGLE provided comments back to Wolverine on this sampling plan in August 2018.
  • Early November 2018, Wolverine completed all sampling for the USEPA UAO, including the PFAS sampling for EGLE.
  • November and December 2018, Wolverine installed five new off-site monitoring wells as part of their PFAS investigation for EGLE.An additional monitoring well location on the west side of the Rogue River will be installed once access is finalized.
  • A status update factsheet was released by the USEPA and EGLE in late November 2018 providing residents an update on the investigation and announcing a January 2019 town hall meeting.
  • January 10, 2019, EGLE issued a press release announcing that due to the federal government shutdown, the joint USEPA and EGLE Wolverine Townhall meeting, originally scheduled for January 23, 2019, at the Rockford High School, was postponed until further notice. This meeting will be rescheduled.
  • January 11, 2019, Wolverine submitted the Final Tannery Summary Report to the USEPA.
  • On March 26, 2019, the USEPA and EGLE held a joint Town Hall at the Rockford High School Fine Arts Auditorium at 4100 Kroes Street NE, Rockford MI 49341. The Open House was from 6:00 – 6:30 pm, the Public Meeting from 6:30 – 8:00pm and time for questions held between 8:00 – 8:30pm. This meeting was originally scheduled for January 23, 2019, but was rescheduled due to the federal government shutdown.
  • In February 2019, GZA completed a round of groundwater monitoring well sampling and installed three groundwater extraction wells on the Tannery property associated with a groundwater capture and treatment system. The three extraction wells were developed the week of April 1, 2019 and a pump test was completed in May 2019.
  • Results from the summer/fall 2018 EGLE fish sampling activities completed in northern Kent county can be found on the MPART Fish PFOS Guidelines page.
  • MDHHS releases Eat Safe Fish Guides annually in the Spring, and emergency advisories as needed. Fish across the state are tested for PFAS in addition to other chemicals such as mercury, as all fish have some amount of mercury. As new guidelines are set as a result of elevated levels of PFOS, Michigan is releasing those advisories outside of the annual Eat Safe Fish Guides update.
  • On April 29, 2019, the USEPA sent Wolverine a letter detailing the required time-critical cleanup CERLCA actions at the Tannery site.
  • On August 15, 2019, the Wolverine Community Advisory Group (CAG) held their first public meeting at the Rockford Freshmen Center.


For additional detailed information regarding the overall Wolverine World Wide investigation, visit the Belmont-House Street page.