ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — After getting new information from Wolverine Worldwide, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has rejected the company’s cleanup plan for the PFAS pollution caused by its former tannery.
According to Wolverine documents, EGLE wrote on March 10 it agreed with the company that new data showed the proposed plan would not prevent all PFAS-tainted groundwater from leaching into the Rogue River and beyond.
The plan called for 22 extraction wells to be installed around the former tannery site in downtown Rockford. Those wells, if functioning properly, would capture the groundwater before it “migrated to surface waters” and could be treated, pulling the PFAS out of the water and preventing its spread into the community.
However, according to a statement published Thursday by Wolverine, additional testing found more “previously unknown underground sites” would lessen the impact of the original plan. To address that, Wolverine suggested more wells and pumps to help push the captured groundwater through a series of trenches.
“Rather than proceed with installing an approved but potentially underperforming system, we notified EGLE and proposed expanding and improving the system to make it substantially larger, more robust and more effective,” Wolverine’s statement read.
EGLE laid out a detailed list of points that need to be amended in order for the cleanup plan to be approved. The company has 60 days to file an updated plan.
Company officials seemed confident that the two sides were close to an approved plan, noting that EGLE did not reject the plan as a concept and rather asked for more details.
“We have already begun to assemble this information and look forward to working with EGLE to obtain quick approval of our expanded system,” Wolverine’s statement read. “EGLE’s denial will unfortunately result in a delay in preventing groundwater from reaching the Rogue River, but we are committed to implementing our expanded system and are moving forward with design and permit applications so we can begin construction as soon as regulatory approvals allow.”
The PFAS pollution affiliated with Wolverine Worldwide came to the surface in 2017 when a citizens group first notified the state of the potential of PFAS at the former House Street dump.
Wolverine had claimed it had only recently learned that Scotchgard, a product used to waterproof shoes, contained PFAS. Although a Target 8 investigation revealed Wolverine was actually warned by 3M, the chemical company that developed Scotchgard, in 1999.
In November 2017, testing showed 490,000 parts per trillion of PFAS in groundwater at the former tannery site and more than 12,000 ppt in the Rogue River’s water and sediment. In 2016, the federal safety standard for PFAS in drinking water was 70 ppt. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the federal standard for certain forms of PFAS would be dropped to 4 ppt.
That same month, former Gov. Rick Snyder launched the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team to investigate Wolverine and look into other PFAS pollution sites around the state.
More than a dozen other dump sites have since been investigated and hundreds of homes were forced to switch to bottled water while water pipes were laid to tie homes into a public water system.
Wolverine Worldwide and 3M announced a $54 million settlement for approximately 1,700 property owners directly impacted by PFAS pollution.
PFAS — or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — is a giant group of chemical compounds. They are referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down naturally. After being incorporated into thousands of products — everything from non-stick pans to dental floss and nail polish — researchers discovered that PFAS builds up in the human body and can cause several health issues, including cancer.
CORRECTION: This story has been edited for clarity. Wolverine Worldwide did not find more sites with PFAS pollution but found “previously unknown underground sites” that would lessen the impact of the proposed system. We regret the error.