“In June of 1999, Dawn Brenner told her supervisor at Wolverine Worldwide’s tannery that water from the drinking fountain was changing colors.
‘I was told, ”There’s nothing that’s wrong with the water, Dawn,” Brenner said. ”It’s coming straight out of the city. It’s not coming from here.”’
The water wasn’t’ fine. It was being mixed directly with Scotchgard, the product Wolverine used to waterproof leather for its popular Hush Puppies shoes and other brands. The Scotchgard contained per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, called PFAS. The problematic chemicals leached from tannery sludge to contaminate hundreds of Kent County private wells.
Lavern Smith, who filled multiple jobs at the tannery from the late 1960’s to when it closed in 2009, said the water turned rusty brown for a few days.
‘I drank from the fountain one time, and I couldn’t breath or anything,’ Smith said. ‘I started getting nauseous, and I started turning blue.’
Multiple tannery employees said Wolverine brought them into the cafeteria and told them about the contamination. They provided bottled water.
In a statement provided to WZZM 13, Wolverine Worldwide confirmed that two chemicals, Scotchgard and Anti-Stat 7493, ‘mix[ed] and dilute[ed] with water in the tannery drinking fountains for a very short period of time…[due to] a plumbing malfunction.’ The company said it shut off the fountains, and ‘determined there were no long-term risks to the employees from any incidental ingestion.’
‘They gave us the short term of what would be wrong,’ Smith said. ‘You’d throw up, and you’d get dizzy and stuff like that. But they couldn’t’ give us the long-term [consequences].’
WZZM 13 requested all complaints made to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the tannery through 2009. Even if the complaints existed, they are gone. The state deletes investigative records after five years.”
Read the full article by Noah Fromson.