Green Guide

Tannery sludge at Michigan landfill tied to water pollution

Posted September 10

— A Superfund landfill suspected of chemically polluting a Michigan water system once accepted toxic sludge from a leather tannery that used the same chemical compounds, according to state records and a former truck driver.

Sand Lake resident Earl Tefft told MLive that he regularly drove sludge waste from the Wolverine World Wide tannery to the State Disposal Landfill from 1965 to 1966, while hauling for a local pickup service. Kent County records also state that the company dumped sludge at the landfill during the same period.

But the company, in a statement, said that "based on a review of available records, Wolverine does not believe it disposed of material" at the landfill.

Wolverine made the Hush Puppies shoe brand using Scotchgard, a stain-and-water repellant that relies on perfluorinated chemicals as its chemical backbone. Those compounds were found in Plainfield Township water in 2013.

The water system serves about 40,000 customers.

"We're tracking the (chemicals) from State Disposal to see if it's the only source, or a source in the Plainfield Township wells," said Judith Alfano, site manager with the Superfund section at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Alfano didn't directly point to Wolverine as the source of the chemicals, which the department determined are moving through groundwater toward five township wells at Versluis Park next to the Grand River.

Perfluorinated chemicals are no longer manufactured in the U.S. because of health risks. Studies show exposure has been tied to liver disease, thyroid malfunction, pediatric developmental problems and other endocrine and immune system impacts.

Plainfield Township Superintendent Cameron Van Wyngarden is confident in the township's water quality, but also said tannery waste "certainly was in our minds as a potential source given the recent discoveries at other locations in our area."

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