Michigan sues company over chemical contaminants in water

DEQ & Wolverine legal action

LANSING, MICH. - The state of Michigan is suing Rockford-based Wolverine Worldwide over chemical contaminants in drinking water, saying the lawsuit is needed to formalize the footwear company's response to the contamination and to reimburse the government for past and future costs.

The suit was filed Wednesday, Jan. 10, in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says while Wolverine has been cooperative, a judge should still order the company to prevent endangerment to public health, abate the contamination and pay state enforcement and other costs.

Wolverine disposed of tannery waste at or near a dump site on House Street NE in Plainfield Township from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. Chemicals in the waste has migrated into the soil and groundwater at the House Street dump, Wolverine's former Rockford tannery adjacent to the Rogue River and other disposal sites, according to the federal complaint.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been detected at or near the old tannery and the House Street dump. Seventy-eight residential drinking wells have tested above an advisory standard.

"Wolverine has caused or contributed to a condition that presents or may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment because Wolverine released 'solid wastes' into the environment,'' according to the federal complaint.

Wolverine says the suit was anticipated and it's working collaboratively with regulators.

The 21-page complaint was filed the same day the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued an administrative order to Wolverine to "conduct further assessment and potential cleanup work'' at its former tannery, which closed in 2009, and the House Street landfill.

The EPA order calls for more testing of soil, groundwater and river sediment contaminated with hazardous substances including arsenic, chromium, mercury and ammonia.

"This is EPA's most recent activity in its ongoing response to Wolverine contamination issues,'' the federal agency said in a news release.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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