The manufacturer of Hush Puppies shoes has left a toxic footprint in neighborhoods near Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Toxic chemicals from Wolverine World Wide’s Rockford, Michigan tannery have been detected in residential drinking wells, putting lives and property at risk.

Dangerous Scotchgard chemicals for waterproofing shoes at the facility were dumped on sites in and around the Rockford area years ago. The chemicals quietly polluted groundwater and drinking water wells for decades, and state and local officials are now conducting health studies and environmental testing as they try to determine the scope of the problem. The investigation continues.

Wolverine Dumped Hazardous Chemicals That Have Contaminated the Water

Waste chemicals from Wolverine’s tannery were dumped at a number of locations in the 1960s and 1970s, a time when liners and other protective measures were not required by law. The hazardous chemicals have drained into the groundwater over time and are now appearing in drinking water wells in the area.

The Chemicals Are Toxic and Dangerous to Humans

Wolverine began using Scotchgard in the 1960s to waterproof the pigskin leather it used in its Hush Puppies shoes. Scotchgard contains dangerous perfluoroalkyl, polyfluoroalkyl, and perfluorinated chemicals (referred to as PFAS or PFCs), exposure to which is linked to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid problems and cholesterol issues. 

Contaminated Drinking Water Found in Homes

The PFAS and PFCs have infiltrated groundwater wells, and contaminated drinking water was first discovered near a 76-acre undeveloped tract in Belmont, Michigan where Wolverine once dumped sludge from its pigskin tanning processes. Wolverine is paying to test drinking water wells at 338 homes near that dump site.

As of early October, tests at 15 properties bordering U.S. 131, including the Michigan National Guard armory have shown PFAS and PFC levels above the 70-parts per trillion (ppt) health advisory limit established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. At one residence, the level was 542 times more than the EPA benchmark, the highest that Michigan Department of Health and Human Services toxicologists have ever seen in a private drinking water well, and the number of infected properties may increase as more results come back from an expanded “buffer zone” testing area.

According to officials, approximately 200 Plainfield Township homes are being tested around a “buffer zone” area around the dump site at 1855 House Street NE.

Plainfield Township Contamination

Photo Credit: Kent County Health Department

  • The testing boundary extends:
  • North to 10 Mile Road
  • East across U.S. 131 to Belmont Avenue NE.
  • South to an area of homes between Chandler Drive and Herrington Avenue NE situated in a glacial valley that drains into the Rogue River.
  • West of the dump site, the expanded boundary includes all homes on House Street NE, as well as property around Clear Bottom Lake, Duck Lake, and part of Freska Lake.

Those residing or owning property within this zone should be aware of the risks and follow up with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Environmental Assistance Center.

Cancer, Thyroid Problems Plague Wolverine Dump Neighbors

Residents in the affected areas are reporting thyroid issues, cancer, and other symptoms consistent with PFAS exposure and now question whether loved ones died from exposure to Wolverine’s toxic chemicals.

People suffering from cancer or other diseases caused by exposure to Wolverine’s toxic chemicals may be entitled to personal injury damages including past and future medical expenses, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. Spouses or family members of victims may be entitled to damages for loss of consortium (also called “loss of affection” and “loss of companionship”).

Surrounding Landowners May Be Entitled to Property Damages

Harmful chemical contaminants have escaped from Wolverine’s dump sites – and will continue to do so indefinitely – into the surrounding groundwater and residential drinking wells, causing nearby landowners to suffer diminution in the value of their property. Diminution in market value is measured by the difference between the value of the contaminated property and the value of the property if it was not contaminated. The measure of damages is based on the permanent loss in property value due to the contamination.

The attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Commercial Litigation Group are interviewing local residents and landowners regarding their experiences to determine the extent of the groundwater contamination in and around the Wolverine dump sites. If you are a resident or owner and have suffered personal injury or property damages due to toxic chemical exposure, please contact us today!

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