Government, Law, and Manufacturing

Michigan sues Wolverine Worldwide

January 11, 2018
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LANSING — Michigan environmental regulators are suing Wolverine Worldwide over widely used industrial chemical contaminants that were dumped into the ground decades ago and have seeped into drinking water, saying the lawsuit is necessary to lock into place response efforts and reimburse the government for past and future costs.

The complaint, filed yesterday in federal court, seeks an order declaring that the Rockford-based company's past disposal of hazardous waste poses or may pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health.

Of nearly 1,200 private residential wells tested in an area north of Grand Rapids, 78 have levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, above the lifetime federal advisory level of 70 parts per trillion.

PFAS were commonplace in industrial applications, including Scotchgard, which Wolverine, a maker of footwear and apparel, used in its operations.

Scientists are uncertain about how they affect human health at exposure levels typically found in food and water, but some studies suggest the chemicals may affect fetal development, disrupt hormonal functions, damage fertility and immune systems and boost the risk of cancer.

State officials said while Wolverine has been responsive, the suit is the next step in formalizing timelines and expectations for cleanup, sampling and other actions.

"The State of Michigan is committed to holding responsible parties responsible,” said Heidi Grether, director, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. “We have filed this action today, because we want to ensure that immediate and long-term solutions are confirmed by the courts.”

Wolverine said it has voluntarily complied with requirements outlined by regulators. It also said it expects the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue an order formalizing the continued investigation of two sites for non-PFAS compounds.

"This is our hometown, and these are our friends, families and neighbors," said Chris Hufnagel, SVP and strategy head, Wolverine Worldwide. "We are committed to doing the right thing and seeing this through to the end."

Wolverine has paid for the installation of more than 400 whole-house filtration systems for residences with any detection of perfluorooctanoic acid or perfluorooctanesulfonic acid.

The suit seeks an order for Wolverine to prepare and submit for approval to regulators all response plans and to continue ongoing public outreach.

The complaint also asks that Wolverine continue sampling drinking water and studying potential chemical releases into the air, that it abate the contamination and that the company pay the state's past and future costs, including for enforcement and attorney fees.

Wolverine Worldwide is maintaining a blog to "keep the community informed on local water testing and related issues." 

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