“ROCKFORD, MI — Historical records show that Wolverine World Wide once stored toxic chemicals that are polluting the Rogue River in an unpaved area outdoors at the footwear company’s former leather tannery complex in downtown Rockford.
A pollution prevention plan from 1981 shows that drums of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, were kept outside at the tannery near locations where recent testing has found extremely high levels of the chemistry in the soil and groundwater.
The 1981 document, obtained though the Freedom of Information Act, may not have been provided to either the state or federal governments in response to mandatory record seeking related to an ongoing pollution investigation in Kent County.
Neither the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would definitively say whether Wolverine provided the document in response to a state subpoena and a federal request for information.
Other records obtained through FOIA show that regulators were unhappy with Wolverine’s chemical storage at the time, but attempts to cajole changes at Wolverine were rebuffed. Records show that Scotchgard storage was eventually moved indoors.
Academic experts who have independently analyzed records related to Wolverine use of PFAS-laden 3M Scotchgard fabric protector say the outdoor chemical storage could help explain the high contamination levels at the site, which is undergoing extensive pollutant testing this summer under EPA supervision.
‘Any spill that occurred in the storage area would certainly go into the groundwater,’ said Richard Rediske, a Grand Valley State University chemistry professor who first alerted the DEQ last year to Wolverine’s historic PFAS usage.
According to the 1981 Pollution Incident Prevention Plan (PIPP), Wolverine kept several varieties of Scotchgard outside near a warehouse at the south end of the manufacturing complex where tanned pigskin hides became iconic shoe brands like Hush Puppies.
Today, the soil and groundwater under the demolished complex and the adjacent river are highly polluted with PFAS, a class of chemicals which gave Scotchgard its waterproofing abilities. Human studies have shown probable links between PFAS exposure and kidney cancer, thyroid disease, pregnancy complications and other illnesses.
Testing confirms PFAS in sediment in the Rogue River and Rum Creek, a tributary that flowed directly underneath the tannery and Hide House buildings where records show that Wolverine stored Scotchgard chemicals indoors.
Read the full article by Garret Ellison