ROCKFORD, MICH. - The state is expanding its probe into possible groundwater contamination in areas where waste from shoemaker Wolverine Worldwide was dumped decades ago.
The expanded probe comes after a private landowner in Kent County’s Cannon Township said solid waste from the Rockford-based company was once dumped there. The property is less than a mile from East Rockford Middle School.
Officials with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on Thursday said at least four sites in the Rockford and Belmont areas will be tested “out of an abundance of caution.’’
“We are cataloging additional sites as they come in, trying to get verification on why these sites have been mentioned as disposal facilities,’’ said Mark Worrall, district geologist with the state DEQ.
Earlier this year, a suspected carcinogen called PFOS was linked to a long-closed Wolverine dump site along House Street NE in Plainfield Township. PFOS is a toxic chemical used in Scotchgard, which the company used to waterproof shoes.
In late May, the chemical was detected in groundwater at the Michigan National Guard’s Belmont Armory, located about a half-mile away.
That discovery led to additional groundwater tests at area homes. Several wells tested positive for elevated levels of PFOS; one tested more than 500 times above federal health advisory levels.
The dump itself is hard to find unless you’re looking for it. A wire fence and faded signs identify the land as private – no hunting or trespassing. The dump closed nearly 50 years ago. It’s where Wolverine dumped sludge from its Rockford tannery, which was demolished in 2010.
News of the groundwater contamination has generated additional calls to state officials about possible Wolverine dump sites, including on Ramsdell Drive just north of Nine Mile Road NE in Cannon Township.
A homeowner decades ago allowed Wolverine to dump solid waste there. At the time, there wasn’t even thought of building a middle school nearby.
“The previous homeowner gave them permission to dump trimmings, which wasn’t illegal,’’ said David O’Donnell, DEQ field operations manager. “The new homeowner recently notified us and gave us access to his property.’’
The property is about 4,000 feet from East Rockford Middle School, which has about 800 students in grades 6-8.
Rockford Public Schools announced Thursday is will use bottled water at the middle school while its well water is tested. Tests results are expected back later this month.
Meanwhile, the DEQ plans to test for PFOS at a closed municipal dump on 12 Mile Road east of Summit Avenue NE that abuts the White Pine Trail.
Because the former dump accepted waste from Wolverine Worldwide, the state wants to determine if PFOS contamination exists, O’Donnell said.
Tests are also planned on former dump sites along East Beltline Avenue north of Four Mile Road NE and off Brewer Avenue NE.
“Again, we are doing this out of an abundance of caution,’’ O’Donnell said. “We need to be better safe than sorry."
But there could be other locations – like the one on Ramsdell, that will only come to light if homeowners speak up, he said.
"We're acting where we see credible evidence and have solid, credible evidence like we did in Cannon Township this week,’’ O’Donnell said.
As of Thursday, Oct. 12, the state has logged about two dozen tips of other potential dump sites, he said.
The list includes property across from the Wolverine dump on House Street NE; a resident reported drums and shoe leather in a ravine.
DEQ employees spent much of Thursday overseeing excavation at the wooded site between the southbound lanes of U.S. 131 and House Street. The land is owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Worrall, the DEQ geologist, said waste has been traced back to Wolverine, but it was not immediately known how it got there or when.
“We’re looking at historical air photos to see what kind of activity occurred on those properties as well as looking where there are first-hand accounts about disposed of material,’’ Worrall said. “If additional sites come forward or additional information comes forward, those sites will be investigated.’’
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