Food Service & Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Retail

Rockford breweries say water is fine

News of PFAS contamination has owners answering questions from patrons.

April 5, 2019
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Rockford’s brewing establishments are reporting “all clear” in reference to contamination from Wolverine Worldwide’s former tannery site in the area.

According to an earlier Business Journal report, the Rockford-based footwear manufacturer commissioned Rose & Westra, a division of GZA GeoEnvironmental, to test soils, groundwater and sediment samples at the old tannery at 123 N. Main St. for pollutants.

The R&W report revealed high levels of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), present in the agent Wolverine had used to waterproof its leather boots up until 2000.

According to R&W, PFAS impacts from the former tannery “are highest on-site” but also have discharged west into the Rogue River, and contamination concentrations in groundwater wells at the tannery have been found to be anywhere from nondetect to 450,000 parts per trillion.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s cleanup standard for PFAS is 70 ppt for groundwater used in drinking water.

Despite the findings, Rockford Brewing, 12 E Bridge St. NE along the Rogue River, is not worried about chemical contamination in its product. The brewery’s co-owner, Jeff Sheehan, said it uses water from the city of Rockford, which does not source surface water or water from contaminated wells.

“There are some neighborhoods whose wells have been contaminated,” Sheehan said, “not even all of the well water. For example, my own household is safe.”

When the PFAS issue first came to light, Rockford Brewing had to field multiple phone calls from concerned consumers about the quality of the water used in brewing, Sheehan said.

Similarly, Kayla Rae Cellars, a wine bar and tasting room at 31 Courtland St. along the Rogue River and White Pine Trail, also reported its water to be safe. The bar, which brews its own beer on-site, sources municipal water from the city of Rockford.

“We trust the city to do what it’s supposed to do,” said Bob Bonga, owner of Kayla Rae Cellars. “There’s not much else we can do for how small we are.”

Wolverine pledged in a March 25 blog post it will remove polluted soils and install protective matting at the public kayak launch area on the Rogue River, topping it with gravel; put up a fence between the river and the White Pine Trail near Rum Creek so people cannot access the contaminated area; and continue testing for lead and chromium and “excavate those materials where necessary.”

According to the MDEQ, PFAS compounds are a group of emerging and “potentially harmful” contaminants used in thousands of applications including fire-fighting foam, food packaging and many other consumer products. These compounds also have been used by industries such as tanneries, metal platers and clothing manufacturers. The discovery of PFAS contamination is not limited to the Rockford area as many municipalities nationwide have reported chemical discoveries in water and surrounding land.

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