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Two PFAS-contaminated sites in Kent County could be placed on EPA list of America's most toxic locations

Both sites, owned by Wolverine Worldwide, are being considered for Superfund site status with the EPA
Posted at 3:41 PM, Jan 07, 2022

ROCKFORD, Mich. — Two locations in West Michigan, both at the center of local PFAS contamination, are now being considered by the EPA to become Sueprfund sites.

The old Wolverine Worldwide tannery site located at 123 North Main Street along the east bank of the Rogue River, and the company’s old dump site at 1855 House Street in Plainfield Township are going through an EPA evaluation to be placed on a list of the country’s most contaminated places.

But the designation would also mean more access to funding and more federal oversight.

“I think of this like broccoli,” said Sandy Wynn-Stelt, co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network. “Nobody likes broccoli, there’s no one in the world who wants to eat broccoli, but we know it’s good for you so you kind of have to stomach it. And a superfund site is the same thing. Nobody wants a superfund site, but I think what it does is it opens some additional resources, it opens up some more scrutiny so that we can be sure that this is done correctly.”

Wynn-Stelt also lives across the road from the old Wolverine dump site on House Street and says she’s optimistic about where the investigation into making the location a Superfund site could go.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) also known as ‘forever chemicals,’ are widely used long-lasting chemicals that break down very slowly over time. They’re often found in different consumer, commercial and industrial products, including many produced by Wolverine Worldwide.

The investigation, data collection and planning process could take a long time, so it could be years before either site is placed on the Sueprfund list.

“I think that’s going to be the frustrating part is, this literally could take years for all the scoring and all the investigation and all of that to occur,” said Wynn-Stelt. “This is truly a very long ultramarathon, not a sprint.”

Wynn-Stelt also noted that work on the sites won’t stop while they’re being investigated. While the federal EPA investigates, state work through EGLE will continue.

“EGLE does have a plan in place with Wolverine to do a cap over the house street dump area and do some cleanup along the tannery site I believe, and put in more wells,” she said. “So there will be some work going on over the next year that’s not related to superfund.”

In response to a request for comment, EGLE told FOX17:

EPA and EGLE have been coordinating our investigation of tannery pollution found in the Rockford and Belmont area during EPA’s time critical removal activities completed in 2018 through 2020 and continue to do so through the superfund site assessment process.

EGLE is currently conducting a site inspection on the tannery site and our crew was out on-site recently collecting samples for that effort. The draft report for this work will likely be sent to EPA later this spring, and after EPA’s review and approval, the final report may be available by this summer. The decision on whether the site will continue toward potential listing onto the Nation Priorities List will be made then. As for the House Street site, we will be beginning the preliminary assessment work soon with a draft report scheduled to be sent to EPA by the end of this winter. Again, after EPA’s review and approval, this report will be made final and the decision regarding whether this site will continue in the process will be made.

The EPA also responded to FOX17’s request for comment, saying:

EPA works with our state partners to determine which sites to evaluate as potential NPL sites. In FY21 Michigan expressed interest in reengaging with EPA about evaluating the Wolverine Worldwide Properties for NPL eligibility. EPA provided Michigan EGLE funding in FY21/22 to initiate evaluations at the House Street property and conduct necessary sampling at the Tannery Property to determine if the sites are eligible for the NPL. EPA intends to provide additional funding in FY22. EPA expects to receive draft reports in early calendar year 2023. After finalizing each report, EPA will understand if the sites are potentially eligible for the NPL. Proposal of any site to the NPL is a multi-step process. Listing the Wolverine properties to the NPL will depend on continued MI support for listing and continued eligibility as subsequent site evaluations are generated; and would occur no sooner than calendar year 2024.

EPA has no records of Wolverine’s position on a potential NPL listing.

There is very active community engagement at this site. EPA has heard a wide range of concern from residents about the contamination from Wolverine Worldwide. One comprehensive group is the Wolverine Community Advisory Group who continues to meet and discuss all the issues related to the contamination on a monthly to bi-monthly basis.