Sunday, July 01, 2018 by Rhonda Johansson
[UPDATE: The first draft of this story was based on information made available on February of this year. As such, it did not record any developments that have occurred since then. It has now been updated. Furthermore, the article incorrectly stated that the entire Algoma township was contaminated which was an error on the author’s part. We apologize for the error and have corrected it here.]
Shoemaker Wolverine Worldwide has received at least 52 individual lawsuits claiming that their old tannery in northern Kent County, Michigan, contaminated the groundwater in the area. Residents, who are currently being represented by Varnum LLP, claim that Wolverine Worldwide “hid the fact that it had dumped toxic PFAS chemicals in Kent County.” PFAS stands for polyfluoroaklyl substances which have been extensively studied to interfere with one’s health.
Wolverine has filed a motion to have these cases dismissed, stating there “is no imminent danger to anyone’s health,” as written in their court documents. Wolverine goes on to say that Varnum has created a false sense of immediate harm through misrepresentation. Representatives of the company, along with those from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have retested the waters and found them to be perfectly safe. They further noted that their results have been verified by the Kent County Health Department.
Last February, a set of Kent County, Michigan, homeowners claimed that their water walls were contaminated with lead, a heavy metal that has been studied to trigger potentially debilitating conditions in both adults and children. Jennifer and Lucas Carney who live on the 7500 block of Chandler Drive NE said that their well tested at 73 parts per billion (ppb) for the neurotoxin.
According to the guidelines set by the EPA , the limit for lead in drinking water is at 15-ppb.
Officials of the EPA then issued an administrative order for the company to conduct cleanup work at its former tannery. The EPA order further required Wolverine to ensure that soil and river sediments were free of or contained only acceptable amounts of hazardous substances such as arsenic, chromium, mercury, and ammonia.
Wolverine complied with these instructions and declared the “critical” areas to be safe of lead-contaminated water.
“Based on the information currently available, Wolverine does not believe the House Street site is the source of these [contaminations] or any other lead detections in the … area,” their official response states.
To further prove their claim, Wolverine representatives tested various homes near the tannery and said that heavy metal levels were “all well below the state action level.” This was likewise supported by another investigation by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) of the state of Michigan.
“Michigan DEQ proactively tested 35 homes for 10 metals and volatile organic compounds last summer (2017) and found that none of the results exceeded residential clean up criteria,” the department said.
The Carneys say that regardless of the results, people need to be aware of the dangers of heavy metals in their drinking systems.