Lawyers dig up 50-year-old case in waste disposal suit

Posted at 8:16 PM, Dec 04, 2017

BELMONT, Mich. (AP) — Court records show that a shoe manufacturer reached an agreement with a Michigan township nearly 50 years ago that allowed the company to continue dumping tannery sludge in the area as long as the waste didn’t contaminate water, according to a lawsuit.

Attorneys representing local homeowners summarized the 1966 court settlement with Plainfield Township in a recently filed civil complaint against Wolverine World Wide in Kent County Circuit Court, the Grand Rapids Press reported.

The old lawsuit began when the township passed an ordinance that prohibited sewage and industrial waste dumping following complaints about odor and flies at a landfill in Belmont. The decades-old settlement permitted Wolverine to dump in the area if the company acquired a state license, covered the sludge every day and made efforts to reduce the dump’s impact on nearby residents.

“The court order is significant, given Wolverine’s stance that its historic waste disposal practices were consistent with the norms of the day, and compliant with all applicable laws,” said Aaron Phelps, a partner at the law firm Varnum Law.

The new lawsuit alleges that the company’s old landfill contaminated water with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl. Wolverine has tested more than 1,000 wells after the contamination plume was discovered this year.

The manufacturer used the chemicals when waterproofing leather for shoes. The toxic substances are in a class of chemicals that has been tied to cancer, thyroid problems and other diseases. The chemicals can be found in firefighting foams, cleaning products, household cookware and carpets, and some food packaging.

The law firm could file several more similar cases in the upcoming months, Phelps said.

Wolverine declined to comment on the ongoing or past litigation.

The company stopped using the site in around 1970 and moved to a new location a few miles away.