As monitoring and cleanup preparation continues at multiple sites where Wolverine Worldwide is accused of dumping PFAS-laden waste for decades, it would be easy to assume that the contamination is, at the very least, contained. A new report released in late November suggests that to be wishful thinking, as data shows that plumes of PFAS chemicals are spreading out from contamination sites.
As residents of Kent County are all too aware, PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals (including PFOA and PFOS) that were used in the manufacturing of waterproofing products like Scotchgard. PFAS are referred to as “forever chemicals” that do not break down over time and can remain persistent in the environment for decades. The insolubility of PFAS allows it to flow freely throughout ground and surface water, hitching a ride wherever the natural flow of water takes it.
The report issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) shows that multiple plumes of high-level PFAS is spreading out in different directions.
At the site of the former Wolverine Worldwide tannery in downtown Rockford, a site where officials recorded concentrated PFAS levels of 450,000 parts-per-trillion (PPT), the plume appears to be moving west to the Rogue River. At the former House Street dump site, the plume looks to be heading southeast into the Rogue River.
In Wolven, where officials detected contamination at a former dump site located at Wolven Ave. NE, the plume seems to be spreading out in different directions, heading northwest, northeast, and southeast in the direction of the Rogue River. Calling the Wolven plume “extremely complex” in the report, the EPA and MDEQ confirm that the groundwater contamination is still being defined with additional monitoring wells.
Getting an accurate reading of the concentration of the plumes may be difficult, due to potential fluctuations in contaminant levels. Earlier in the month, the MDEQ asked Wolverine Worldwide to retest approximately 927 private wells in the Belmont area to obtain data on potential fluctuations.
In detailing the next steps, the EPA will review the data generated by these investigations with local, state, and federal partners, and begin cleanup efforts next year. The MDEQ plans to continue monitoring oversight of drinking water filters and additional drilling. The report also mentions that analysis of feasibility or alternative cleanup methods will need to be completed by Wolverine Worldwide.
The MDEQ and EPA also plan to hold a public town hall meeting at the Rockford High School Fine Arts Auditorium on January 23, 2019 at 6 p.m. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.