Read the full article by Garret Ellison (MLive)
“GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Thanks to Wolverine Worldwide, there’s a 25 square-mile area of northern Kent County where the groundwater is poisonous to drink.
Wolverine, which polluted the area with PFAS chemicals while making shoes, knew and did nothing about the contamination until its toxic dumping was discovered five years ago.
Nonetheless, its board chairman and newly-retired CEO Blake Krueger will be honored with a business community award this month for being a role model to young people.
On Oct. 24 at Frederick Meijer Gardens, Krueger will be inducted as a laureate into the Junior Achievement West Michigan Business Hall of Fame by the Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes (JAMGL).
The chapter of the global JA nonprofit presents the award annually to prominent business leaders who ‘possess a record of outstanding business achievements in West Michigan, have earned the respect of the local community and who serve as a role model, particularly to local youth.’
People who drank from poisoned wells are flabbergasted.
Tobyn McNaughton, a Belmont mother of two boys, ages 2 and 6, — one of whom drank extremely high levels of PFAS-tainted water as a baby — is not amused.
‘They don’t respect the community,’ she said about Wolverine, which Krueger led during the years in which PFAS became widely known as a toxicant. ‘They have trashed it.’
‘It makes me sick to my stomach.’
Krueger, 68, joined Wolverine in 1993 as general counsel. He became CEO in 2005. He left the role of CEO this year but remains chairman of the company board.
In the footwear world, Krueger is known for orchestrating a $1.2 billion acquisition of the Saucony, Sperry, Keds and Stride Rite brands in 2012, helping grow the Rockford-based company into a behemoth which made $2.4 billion in revenue last year.
Prior to joining Wolverine, Krueger was a partner at Warner, Norcross & Judd — a Grand Rapids-based law firm that’s long held Wolverine as a major client.
Under Krueger’s leadership, Wolverine has portrayed itself as a responsible remediator of legacy pollution and the West Michigan business community and Rockford loyalists have subsequently fallen in step. In 2019, the Rockford Chamber of Commerce awarded Wolverine’s Footwear Depot ‘Business of the Year‘ and defended that decision — which also upset pollution victims and was criticized for being ‘tone deaf’ — by arguing the PFAS dumping wasn’t done ‘maliciously.’
William Coderre, president of the Junior Achievement chapter which is honoring Krueger, echoed that sentiment, saying ‘this stuff happened many, many, many, many, many years ago.’
Krueger, Coderre said, was selected by the Hall of Fame committee based on his ‘entire history.’ He could not say whether its members took Wolverine’s pollution into account.
‘The people who made the selection are key community leaders and they are very knowledgeable,’ Coderre said. ‘They were all knowledgeable about Blake’s accomplishments.’
‘I can’t talk about what they should know or should’ve known. That’s not my place,’ he said. ‘We provided information and the selection committee, you know, makes a decision.’
But activists who spent years unearthing pollution evidence say there’s another side to Wolverine and Krueger that isn’t written about in the footwear trade publications or Michigan business journals. They say Wolverine has, for years, fought tooth-and-nail to avoid taking responsibility for its pollution and that its leader knew about local PFAS risks years before they became public.” …