Shoemaking company responsible for toxic waste and groundwater contamination
Just over two hours west of Flint, Mich., Plainfield Township, Mich., was the site of Michigan’s latest water quality crisis. At least 30 wells have shown high concentrations of perfluoroalkyl (PFAS), the common waterproofing chemical found in Scotchgard. PFAS has been linked to health problems such as decreased fertility and increased cancer risk.
The township hosts Wolverine Worldwide, the shoemaker for brands such as Hush Puppies and Merrell. Decades ago, the Wolverine tannery dumped sludge, leather and waste into surrounding forests. Though the tannery closed in 2009, the effects of the dumping remain in the communities groundwater contamination. 76 potential dumps sites have been reported and remain under investigation. The documentation surrounding Wolverine waste dumping is scarce, but the company insists they followed current dumping regulations and that the effects of PFAS were unknown at the time of the dumping.
Residents of Plainfield Township blame Wolverine for the water contamination and argue the company should have taken responsibility sooner, especially in 2000 when 3M, the maker of Scotchgard, announced plans to reformulate the product acknowledging the health risks of PFAS. Currently, Wolverine is working with Michigan regulators to begin clean up of the dump sites. The company is striving to help the families impacted by the contaminated water by providing bottled water, grocery store gift cards and whole-house water filters.