More companies potentially responsible for water contamination in Kent County

Posted at 9:34 PM, Jan 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-29 21:35:28-05

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- The Boulder Creek dump site in Plainfield Township is one of several sites that has residents concerned about contaminated drinking water. While shoemaker Wolverine Worldwide has been at the center of the issue, state documents from the 1990s show other companies are potentially responsible for dumping harmful chemicals at the same site, which likely contaminated local groundwater.

Throughout the late 1980s into the 1990s, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality investigated Northeast Gravel Company's dumping practices at the Boulder Creek site after concerns arose over potential soil and groundwater contamination. FOX 17 obtained verified records through a third party which show that, in addition to Wolverine Worldwide, companies such as Consumers Energy, Kysor Industrial, Keeler Brass Company, and Plastic-Plate Inc (owned by Lacks Enterprises) dumped waste with Northeast Gravel Company at this site, making them potentially responsible parties. Documents show Amway also has a history of dumping at the site.

Amway sent FOX 17 a statement, reading in part:

"When chemicals are used, Amway employs specialized facilities to dispose of them properly – such as the state-approved facility in Swartz Creek that was referenced in the documents provided by Fox 17.  Northeast Gravel was a state-licensed site where Amway’s common trash (such as paper, cardboard, cans, bottles, string, etc.) was disposed.  Our records show nothing to indicate activity by Amway that would negatively impact waterways or public health."  

Consumers Energy tells FOX 17 they will need more time to respond to these findings.

While many in Plainfield Township and Rockford worry about a group of chemicals called PFAS, a variety of other dangerous chemicals have been detected at the Boulder Creek site. High levels of cadmium, copper, hexavalent chromium, lead, nickel and other substances were detected at high levels by an MDEQ study in 1995. According to this study, these chemicals had the potential to leach into groundwater.

According to documents, Northeast Gravel was advised several times by the state to install a cap over the waste to keep it from leaching into the water supply. According the the MDEQ's 1995 report, this cap was never installed.

According to Dr. Mark Muyskens, a chemistry professor at Calvin College, a landfill cap is critical for keeping waste from leaching into nearby water. If a cap is not used, "it’s gonna mean whatever’s in your landfill, it’s gonna be exposed to water,” Muyskens tells FOX 17. “The cap is intended to keep water from getting in, so even if there was something toxic in the landfill, if the water's not there to carry it away, it’s doing what the landfill’s intended to do, keep it in a place.”

According to Muyskens, even solid waste can threaten groundwater if it is not capped.

Some members of the Plainfield Township board say the water contamination issue is new for them. Township Superintendent Cameron Van Wyngarden says the first time they learned about the problem was in late 2013, but according to obtained documents,  every time a potentially responsible party was sent a notice by the MDNR or MDEQ, notice was sent to Plainfield Township.

Now, the township is struggling to explain to its residents what exactly is going on, what they're drinking, and who may be responsible for their health problems.

Questions were asked about the issue to Plainfield Township Attorney Doug Van Essen and engineers from Prein&Newhof during a roundtable discussion at Northview High School Monday night. Representatives from the township initially did not allow media cameras inside the cafeteria, where the discussion took place. When asked why, they told FOX 17 they did that "for the sake of individual privacy and to encourage candid conversation." Video clips were taken by FOX 17 from the entrance.