ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — Wolverine Worldwide is proposing a new plan that changes its approach and timeline to help filter out PFAS near its contaminated former tannery in downtown Rockford.
The state is holding a virtual meeting Tuesday night that will explain the change and is looking for public comment on the plan.
Protecting the Rouge River and groundwater from PFAS, a man-made class of chemicals linked to certain cancers, has been Rockford resident’s Lynn McIntosh’s focus for many years.
“It’s the unknown. Unseen poison,” McIntosh said.
Wolverine Worldwide used Scotchgard, which contained PFAS, to waterproof shoes. The chemicals have been found in private wells near old Wolverine dumps and at the site of the shoemaker’s old tannery in Rockford.
McIntosh said she is skeptical of Wolverine’s updated proposal to prevent PFAS from making its way from the tannery site and into the waterway.
“If the company wants to claim that they’re being environmentally responsible, they need to live up to that,” McIntosh said. “This toxic contamination is chugging into our river 365 days a year, 24/7, even while we sleep at night. It’s like a pipe that never gets turned off.”
Richard Rediske, a professor with the Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University, said a significant amount of PFAS is getting in the river from the tannery.
“There’s monitoring wells there and what they’re doing is they’re monitoring the groundwater and we know that there’s a problem with the PFAS levels in the river because there’s fish advisories for eating the fish,” Rediske said.
State regulators say the new proposal would switch to an underground trench system that would run along the north and south sides of Rum Creek in nine sections and will remove more PFAS per minute than the previous plan.
“Originally, Wolverine’s interceptor system relied on 19 shallow extraction wells and three deep extraction wells,” Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lake and Energy Remediation and Redevelopment District Supervisor Karen Vorce said.
She said treatment was set to begin in October 2023 but will begin in May 2024 under the new proposal. EGLE says the treatment will need to run indefinitely as long as the contaminated soil remains at the site.
Wolverine Worldwide declined News 8’s request for an interview Tuesday, instead referring back to sections of its blog on the project:
“Our RAP Addendum [submitted to EGLE on December 1, 2022] proposes to revise the groundwater interceptor system at our former tannery facility by utilizing groundwater collection trenches plus extraction wells. Our proposal to install over 2,000 feet of groundwater collection trenches and paired extraction wells is a larger project than initially designed, and we believe it will provide the most effective means of preventing groundwater from reaching the Rogue River.
“Designing, installing, and tuning a groundwater extraction system is an iterative, complex process. We know there will need to be further adjustments along the way, but we want to do everything we can to do it well the first time. So, we have decided to proceed in phases, first by installing the trenches and extraction wells and testing them for efficacy while using a temporary treatment system. Assuming that system works as intended, we would then construct a more permanent treatment building.
“Groundwater treatment and control of PFAS will begin as soon as construction and permits allow and will continue throughout the Performance Monitoring period while the final on-Site treatment system and building are refined and completed.”