East Rockford Middle School disconnects drinking fountains on contamination concerns

Posted at 9:31 AM, Oct 12, 2017

ROCKFORD, Mich. -  East Rockford Middle School has disconnected all consumable water faucets after evidence of a dangerous contaminant was found near a former dumping site used by West Michigan-based shoe maker, Wolverine Worldwide.

The school district sent a letter to parents of East Rockford Middle School Thursday morning saying that drinking fountains are disabled and Wolverine Worldwide is providing bottled water to the school for drinking and cooking as a precautionary measure. The school uses well water and is now worried dangerous chemicals from the site called PFA’s have seeped into the groundwater.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Wolverine took samples from the school's well Wednesday after finding leather and rubber scraps, possibly contaminated with cancer causing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFA’s) in the former dump site located between 9 and 10 Mile Road, about 1/2 mile northeast of the school. The results are expected back within two weeks and the school will use bottled water at least until the tests are completed.

Wolverine Worldwide once dumped hazardous materials in the Belmont area and several area homes have tested positive for high levels of poisonous chemicals in their wells. The company used the chemicals at the Rockford tannery, waterproofing leather items like their Hush Puppies shoes.

Meanwhile, all agencies involved are trying to figure just how widespread the problem is. Steve Kelso with the Kent County Health Department says they’re now cautioning homeowners near these wells to also switch to bottled water.

Rockford Public Schools has 13 schools in the district, four of which have wells. Dr. Shibler, Superintendent of Rockford Public Schools said if East Rockford tests positive for PFA’s, they’ll continue with testing at a nearby school called Lakes Elementary.

“Again the one that’s closest to East is Lakes Elementary and we’re following the protocol that’s been used at the House Street property several weeks ago,” Dr. Shibler said. “The DEQ is accepting that protocol and their position, and it’s their right to do it this way, and to move forward after we get the results from East Middle School.”

Wolverine Worldwide was unavailable for an interview, instead releasing this statement: “Wolverine is in discussions with the MDEQ about a possible expansion of the testing area. While nothing has been finalized at this hour, we continue to work with them to identify best next steps based on the latest data. We remain committed to taking all appropriate steps to ensuring area residents have water they can trust.”

State toxicologists say exposure to PFAS compounds such as perfluoroctanoic acid have been linked through human studies to kidney and testicular cancer, as well as to ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, thyroid problems and cholesterol issues. Perfluoroctanoic acid exposure is linked to thyroid and liver problems as well as reproductive and immune system impacts in animal testing. Click here for or more information on PFA’s.