Residents question plan to keep PFAS from Rogue

Toxic Tap Water

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — Wolverine Worldwide Inc. hopes to keep PFAS and other dangerous chemicals from its closed tannery site from reaching the Rogue River by this fall, but those who pushed for cleanup first want to know more about its plan.

“We would love the water that’s contaminated with PFAS not to be going into that river,” said Lynn McIntosh of the Concerned Citizens for Responsible Remediation.

The old tannery is the source of the likely carcinogen that has seeped into the Rogue River, leading to fish advisories and mounds of tainted foam.

State environmental officials said they have no details of Wolverine’s plan to keep the tainted groundwater from reaching the Rogue. That’s because the state doesn’t have to approve it. Instead, it needs approval only from the North Kent Sewer Authority, which serves Rockford and neighboring townships.

“This is sort of the thing we would like to weigh in on,” McIntosh said. “We’d like to see the plan, be able to make comments on the plan.”

The sewer authority board last week gave preliminary approval to Wolverine’s plan, but hasn’t seen the final details.

“It’s still on paper. I don’t have enough information to definitely tell you how exactly it would work,” North Kent Sewer Authority Director Scott Schoolcraft said.

Wolverine is still working on details of the plan, but it would be similar to the system that is cleaning up PFAS from the old Wurtsmith Air Force base in Oscoda Township on the other side of the state. A series of wells forms an underground shield, drawing up the bad water and sending it through carbon filters. At Wurtsmith, that treated water then is pumped back into the ground.

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But Wolverine’s plan would send the treated water, up to 10,000 gallons a day, into a Rockford sewer line and to the North Kent Sewer Authority for final treatment, Schoolcraft said.

“If this does end up going into effect, if all the agreements are worked out with all the attorneys and everything happens, then yes, we would be part of the cleanup of the tannery site,” Schoolcraft said.

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.

Wolverine Worldwide announced in June 2018 that it was working on a system to intercept and treat groundwater before it reaches the river. It has installed and is testing the three extraction wells that will capture the groundwater.

Brent Snavely, a Wolverine spokesman, said the company is “completing the design and installation of the rest of the system, and expect it will be in place and operating by late summer or early fall.”

Wolverine isn’t saying how much it will spend on the treatment, but the spokesman called it a “substantial investment, and part of the $35 million that Wolverine has committed towards remediation efforts.”

The sewer authority would frequently check Wolverine’s system to make sure the water its getting is clean — not only of PFAS but also of other bad chemicals, like chromium and vinyl chloride, Schoolcraft said.

He said Wolverine is paying for it all.

“That’s the whole purpose to the entire agreement to make sure that it’s understood that there would be no additional cost to the communities, to the public,” Schoolcraft said.

He said the public can still have a voice in the plan. The sewer authority board must give final approval at a public meeting, likely in a couple of months, Schoolcraft said

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