History of lead in water extends beyond House Street site

Posted at 11:13 PM, Feb 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-12 23:13:38-05

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Recent well test results from two homes near the House Street dump site, where Wolverine Worldwide dumped its waste for years, show extremely high levels of lead. While Wolverine denies any connection to these results, high levels of lead have previously been found at its dump sites.

According to a 1995 report from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, high levels of lead were found at the Boulder Creek dump site operated by Northeast Gravel Company, now the site of the Boulder Creek Golf Club. The lead was found in the precise areas where Wolverine left its waste.

Cody Angell, the leader of a Facebook group called Demand Action from Plainfield Township says it's time township leaders expand their concerns to address more than PFAS.

"It's not just about PFAS and PFOS, as we know," Angell said during Monday night's township meeting. “We want more. We want additional testing, and we want to know what’s in our water now.”

Along with high levels of lead, the 1995 report says tests also found dangerous levels of chromium and cadmium, a chemical that causes kidney damage at the plating and tannery waste areas at Boulder Creek. The levels were so high, they exceeded the DEQ's residential direct contact criteria, with the potential to leach into residential groundwater.

“We need to do something about it and be proactive, and I just believe in being proactive and take care of this before we haven’t taken care of it and there are all these health problems that are happening," resident Grace Kneeshaw tells FOX 17.

Plainfield Township documents show officials were concerned as far back as 1971. The township supervisor at the time, Donald Lamoreaux, wrote a letter to the Kent County Health Department, saying in part, "We are vitally concerned that the wells of these homes may become polluted," referring to specific homes in the direction of the suspected groundwater flow at Boulder Creek.

Current township leaders have repeatedly denied FOX 17's requests to speak about the water issue in general.

So why did the state continue to allow Wolverine Worldwide to continue dumping at this site, even after being aware of these concerns? According to a letter written to a concerned pastor at a nearby church in 1979 by Rod L. Mosier, a supervisor for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the dumping was justified for three reasons: "No alternative has been available to Wolverine, work has been done to put together a proposal for upgrading, and no immediate problem of environmental degradation has been indicated."

As is true at many landfills, it was recommended that a cap be installed over the waste to make sure it didn't contaminate groundwater. FOX 17 spoke to Calvin College chemistry professor Mark Muyskens to find out exactly what that entails.

“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," Muyskens said.

But according to that 1995 MDEQ report, there was still no cap installed at that time, after decades of dumping. It wasn't until reports following that year that a cap was put in, but Muyskens says that may have been too late.

“It’s gonna mean whatever’s in your landfill, it’s gonna be exposed to water," Muyskens says.

Plainfield Township leaders say they are addressing the PFAS issue by looking for a new, clean well field and by installing a municipal filter, estimated to cost $400,000. Before they install the filter, however, they'll need approval from the MDEQ and select a vendor.

Wolverine Worldwide continues to update the public on its side of the issue on its blog.