Michigan Accuses Shoe Manufacturer of Polluting Drinking Water

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) – Dangerous levels of toxic chemicals used to waterproof shoe leather have polluted dozens of residential drinking water wells, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality claims, forcing residents to turn to bottled water.
Wolverine, which is the parent company of Hush Puppies and also makes footwear for Caterpillar and Harley-Davidson, processed hide and leathers for shoes, boots and other products between 1908 and 2009 at the site, according to the state’s complaint, filed by Assistant Attorney General Polly Synk in Grand Rapids federal court.
Chemicals from the waterproofing process included perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also called PFAS, that the Environmental Protection Agency says can attack the immune system and has been linked to developmental problems, liver and thyroid diseases and cancer.
The man-made chemicals break down slowly and dissolve readily, allowing them to leech through soil to groundwater, according to the state’s lawsuit.
Wolverine sampled 640 residential wells for PFAS originating from a landfill in Belmont and reportedly found that 30 wells have tested above levels that Michigan and the EPA consider safe.
The company sampled 549 residential wells at other locations in Kent County and found that 48 residential wells were contaminated at levels the agency says could threaten human health and the environment, according to the complaint.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says the legal action follows the establishment of new clean-up criteria for fluorochemicals in groundwater at 70 parts per trillion, bringing the state in line with federal environmental regulations.
Groundwater is used for drinking water within four miles of the Tannery site, according to the EPA’s order.
Wolverine said it has worked closely with state regulators since 2011 to investigate the sites and said that the state’s action would formalize the company’s own investigatory and remedial actions.
The company sought to downplay the danger to the community, noting that PFOA and PFOS are found in food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, carpets, and electrical tape.

Learn More