Key witness ignored in Wolverine dump site investigation

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ALGOMA TOWNSHIP (WOOD) — Wolverine Worldwide has cleared itself from any involvement in one of the reported PFAS dump sites without interviewing the man who said he dumped there, Target 8 has learned.

In fact, the former dump truck driver said no one from Wolverine or its consultant reached out to him about the former Rockford city dump at 12 Mile Road and the White Pine Trail.

“Yeah, I’m awful hard to find,” Earl Tefft told Target 8 on Thursday. “I’m in the phone book, in The [Grand Rapids] Press, you guys, you know. I’m about as hard to find as a nickel.”

Tefft has spoken publicly — more than once — about how he dumped sludge not only at the House Street dump in Belmont, but also at the old 12 Mile Road city dump.

Twice, the retired Grand Rapids firefighter told his story to Target 8, though he didn’t want to be identified at the time.

But he’s been identified in The Grand Rapids Press, U.S. News & World Report, even the Seattle Times.

In a letter to the DEQ in December 2017, Wolverine’s consultant, Rose & Westra, said it found no evidence the company dumped sludge at the former Rockford city dump.

It said it checked with the city, with Algoma Township and former employees, who said they dumped only “ordinary refuse” there.

The letter concluded: “Wolverine does not anticipate or plan any further action for the WPT (White Pine Trail)/12 Mile Road area.”

Tefft said if Wolverine or its consultant knocked on his door, he’d “tell them the truth.”

Tefft said he worked for now-closed Bell Pickup in the late 1960s, hauling sludge from the former tannery in Rockford.

He recalls the smell: “Yeah, rancid bacon.”

He said he hauled some to an old dump at East Beltline and Three Mile Rd., and hundreds of loads to Wolverine’s dump on House Street NE in Belmont, which closed in 1970.

“Wolverine did exactly what the law required at that time,” he said.

But PFAS from that sludge has spread from House Street NE to wells of hundreds of homes and has been found at high levels in the blood of some residents.

Tefft said he hauled sludge only a couple times to the 12 Mile dump, along the Rogue River, perhaps 7 to 10 yards at a time. “Dump truck-size,” he said.

“I know they told me to take it up there to 12 Mile and dump it,” he said, though he said he doesn’t recall if Wolverine or his bosses at Bell Pickup told him that.

“There wasn’t much sludge hauled in there, a couple loads is all, that I hauled in.”

Target 8 recently tested a home next to the old dump and found PFAS, though it was under the EPA’s drinking water advisory level.

The DEQ on Wednesday also released a report on well tests near that old dump. Of the 14 results back, 13 had PFAS, though below the EPA level.

“I feel bad about it. Yes, I was involved, but at the time I was involved it was perfectly legal,” Tefft said.

In a statement to Target 8, the DEQ said it had seen previous reports about Tefft and wants to talk with him.

Thursday, 24 Hour News 8 reached out to Wolverine Worldwide, who refused to comment on this story.

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