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Wolverine Worldwide to appear in court Friday

The Rockford shoemaker faces more than 100 lawsuits over contaminated water in northern Kent County.

Attorneys for Wolverine Worldwide will be in court Friday, asking that dozens of lawsuits filed over groundwater contamination linked to the Rockford-based shoemaker be dismissed.

Wolverine has been inundated with individual lawsuits and class action lawsuits filed in state and federal court over water contamination linked to chemicals Wolverine used to waterproof shoes.

“We have clients that have really good homes in what were otherwise desirable neighborhoods and school systems, and they’re not able to sell their homes.” said Grand Rapids attorney Aaron Phelps, who is representing clients in many of the lawsuits Wolverine wants dismissed.

Both sides will appear in Kent County Circuit Court on Friday to discuss the status of the lawsuits and a motion by Wolverine to have many dismissed.

In mid-October, Grand Rapids law firm Varnum LLP met with Rockford-area residents to discuss groundwater contamination, much of it linked to an old Wolverine dumpsite on House Street NE in Kent County’s Plainfield Township.

That meeting spurred more than 100 individual lawsuits against Wolverine. The individual lawsuits allege Wolverine broke state law by dumping “sludge, liquid and barrels containing hazardous tannery waste” in Belmont for decades. They argue that lead to diminished property values and adverse health effects.

Attorneys from Varnum and Wolverine are meeting in Kent County Circuit Court to discuss the status of the cases, notably whether they will move forward or be delayed.

Wolverine asked for the delay while a class action lawsuit works its way through federal court. It was filed against Wolverine on Dec. 5, 2017 by a group of national law firms.

Of more than 1,500 wells tested in northern Kent County, more than 550 private wells are tainted with PFAS near former Wolverine disposal areas. More than 101 homes tested with combined PFOS/PFOA over 70 parts per trillion (ppt), the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime safe drinking water limit.

“It’s very clear what caused this contamination; it’s very clear who caused it,” Phelps said.

Wolverine told WZZM 13 many of Varnum’s claims are “misleading and not supported by facts.” In a document pushing for a stay of the cases, the company said the individual cases and the proposed class action suit are “sufficiently the same.”

Wolverine Worldwide’s legal filings in Kent County Circuit Court do not diminish the Company’s commitment to working with the community to find long-term solutions. The groundwater issues facing our community are serious, and that’s why the Company continues to work diligently with local, state and federal regulators to develop longterm solutions. That said, many of the allegations made by plaintiffs’ attorneys in the state court lawsuits are misleading and not supported by the facts. Wolverine also believes certain issues raised in the federal class action lawsuit should be addressed before proceeding with the individual state court lawsuits and, because of this, Wolverine is asking the Kent County Circuit Court to stay the individual state court lawsuits. - Wolverine Worldwide

Varnum said the individuals cases are important because each resident is affected differently. Many of their clients’ homes came back with PFAS below 70 ppt, while one home tested around 38,000 ppt.

Wolverine has installed hundreds of whole-house filters in homes with PFAS detections, but recently limited its offer to homes testing above the EPA limit. Varnum said it’s only a short-term solution.

“All this time they have not agreed to provide municipal water at their expense to the point that Plainfield Township in particular has had to join the federal enforcement case,” Phelps said. “And what we really need is a resolution.”

Both Plainfield and Algoma have filed to join the Department of Environmental Quality’s federal lawsuit against Wolverine Worldwide.

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