EPA orders cleanup at tannery and in Rogue River

Toxic Tap Water

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Wolverine Worldwide to clean up some of the hazardous chemicals from its old tannery site and from sediment in the Rogue River.

The EPA told the shoemaker it must start the work this summer.

It is meant to limit exposure to the public that uses the White Pine Trail, which runs between the tannery site and the river, and for those who use the river in that area.

The order doesn’t cover PFAS, which is regulated by the state.

Instead, it covers other hazardous waste at the site, including arsenic, mercury and chrome, the EPA said.

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Wolverine will be required to clean up the heavy metals from some of its topsoils at the tannery, as well as from the adjoining riverbank where the public has access to the river.

The EPA also ordered Wolverine to install warning signs and “information kiosks” around the site.

The signs, which are to be installed late this month, should warn residents about the contamination and how to avoid exposure, according to the EPA letter.

The agency will require Wolverine to provide pamphlets for the kiosks, with details on the contamination and the cleanup.

“These actions are being ordered to limit the identified contaminants’ immediate threats and exposure risks to the public, and to reduce the ecological impacts until more encompassing cleanup work or other long-term remedies can be established,” according to the letter written by EPA’s on-site coordinator Jeffrey Kimble.

As for PFAS, Wolverine already is developing a plan to filter the likely carcinogen from the groundwater at the tannery to keep any more of it from reaching the Rogue.

The plan would filter PFAS from the groundwater and send the clean water to a Rockford sewer line.

The North Kent Sewer Authority, which would treat the water, has given preliminary approval to Wolverine’s plan.

Wolverine used PFAS-laced Scotchgard for decades to treat shoes. The tannery closed in 2009 after 101 years. PFAS levels hit 490,000 parts per trillion at the site, 7,000 times what’s considered unsafe for drinking water.

PFAS leaking into the river has led to fish advisories and to foam with high levels of the chemical.

Wolverine issued a statement in response to the EPA letter.

“Wolverine Worldwide submitted a letter to the EPA in January 2019 proposing to take certain actions this year at its former Tannery, and since then has shared its proposals with the community on www.WeAreWolverine.com and discussed them with the EPA. The EPA’s letter last week discusses several of the Company’s proposals and also some additional proposals.  Wolverine is reviewing this letter and looks forward to continuing its work with the agency to develop next steps at the former Tannery and House Street locations.”

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