Wolverine Highlights Community Response in Letter to the Editor

Last week the MLive/The Grand Rapids Press published an editorial critical of Wolverine Worldwide.  We felt compelled to set the record straight, and responded by submitting the letter that follows below.  MLive/The Grand Rapids Press published our letter online today, and plans to publish it in print this Sunday.

To the Grand Rapids Press Editorial Board:

Wolverine Worldwide has been part of this community for almost 140 years, and we couldn’t be prouder to call West Michigan home.  Our employees, retirees, friends, and family members live, work, and raise their children here, and our company was founded along the banks of the Rogue River.  That’s why we’ve taken proactive steps to address PFAS issues in the area, and why we’re committed to seeing this through to the end.

Our strong and deep community roots are also why we’re writing today to set the record straight.  While some of the media coverage about Wolverine has been fair and responsible, unfortunately some of it has not.  One of the most recent examples of this is the Grand Rapids Press’ latest editorial against Wolverine (“It’s time to do the right thing, Wolverine”).

First, the editorial calls on Wolverine to “step up now to assist the community,” but ignores that we’ve been here doing that from the very start.  Indeed, even with uncertainty about PFAS in the scientific and regulatory communities, Wolverine ensured all affected residents have access to safe and reliable drinking water by quickly and voluntarily providing bottled water and over 700 proven, highly effective filters – the majority of which went to homes with low or no PFAS in their water.

In addition, Wolverine has worked with the EPA and DEQ to conduct comprehensive environmental investigations at its House Street and former Tannery properties – including drilling dozens of monitoring wells, and collecting hundreds of soil, groundwater, sediment, soil gas, and surface water samples.  We’re also installing a filtration system to capture and treat groundwater at the former Tannery before it reaches the Rogue River.

It’s true that Wolverine has been sued by some residents, including dozens whose water has no PFAS, and others who don’t even live in the area.  We’ll continue to vigorously defend ourselves against these and other meritless claims.  At the same time, we have neither slowed down nor wavered in our commitment to helping our friends, family members, and neighbors in our community and have dedicated over $35 million to-date to our remediation efforts.  In addition, earlier this year we sued 3M, which manufactured, tested, and sold Scotchgard to Wolverine and millions of others for decades, to ensure they do their part to address the impact of their product on this community.

Second, the editorial claims that whole house filters are “not a permanent solution,” and the “obvious” solution is for Wolverine to pay to extend Plainfield Township’s municipal water system.  But the truth is that the whole house filters Wolverine has provided use the same carbon technology used in municipal water filters like the one recently installed by Plainfield Township, and these whole house filters have proven to be highly effective at eliminating PFAS.

Wolverine has said from the start that we intend to be part of developing water quality solutions for our community – and we’ve backed up our words with actions.  Whether these solutions ultimately include the extension of municipal water to certain areas, and who would supply this water, however, has not yet been decided.  Those decisions will be reached based on facts, data, and discussions with regulators and other involved parties – not through grandstanding by Township officials or pressure from the media.

Finally, the editorial inaccurately states that Judge Janet T. Neff ordered Wolverine, 3M, the State of Michigan, and the Townships to “reach a consensus by July 8” on how to remedy groundwater in the House Street area.

This is simply not true, and the Press appears to have adopted it from an inaccurate press release issued by Plainfield Township.  In fact, the judge’s actual request was for the parties to propose a process that the Court can later use to determine whether any remedy is needed beyond what Wolverine has already done.  This distinction is complex, much like the water quality issues we are currently addressing in the community, but it’s a distinction that is critical for the public to understand.

In closing, Wolverine has been in the community for over 100 years, and we plan to be here for 100 more.  We understand and embrace our responsibilities as a community leader, and are committed to seeing this through to the end.  That’s what great companies do, and that’s what people from West Michigan do.  We encourage readers who want the facts to visit our blog at WeAreWolverine.com.

/s David A. Latchana, Associate General Counsel and Assistant Secretary

March 2019 Community Update

In our continuing effort to keep the community informed about Wolverine Worldwide’s efforts to address water quality issues in the area, we wanted to take this opportunity to provide an update to the community on the steps we have taken to-date and will be taking in 2019.

Wolverine’s Commitment to the Community

Wolverine Worldwide’s commitment to helping our friends, family, and neighbors address water quality issues in the area has never wavered.  From the start, we’ve taken proactive, aggressive actions to ensure all affected residents have access to safe drinking water.  In addition, we have worked closely with U.S. EPA, MDEQ, and other regulators to test sites for the presence of PFOA and PFOS, two of the chemicals from 3M Scotchgard™ used in Wolverine’s legacy operations.

Some of our other actions include:

  • Sampling more than 1,500 residential wells for PFOA, PFOS, and other PFAS compounds
  • Providing proven, highly effective water filters to over 700 homeowners. For the latest information demonstrating the effectiveness of these filters, please click here
  • Monitoring over 500 whole house filters and resampling the water in those homes, some as often as weekly
  • Conducting thorough environmental investigations at the House Street and former Tannery properties – including drilling over 70 monitoring wells and collecting and analyzing over 1,350 soil samples, 350 groundwater samples, 100 sediment samples, 100 soil gas samples and 14 surface water samples. For more information about this work, including a description of recent testing and next steps, please click here
  • Designing and installing a filtration system at our former Tannery, to capture and treat groundwater before it reaches the Rogue River. For the latest information about this system and other actions we are taking, please click here
  • Meeting weekly with the State of Michigan and other regulators to analyze data and discuss next steps
  • Committing over $35 million to these efforts directly benefiting our community

Despite ongoing litigation and administrative actions, our collaborative relationship with regulators has not changed, and we continue working productively with them on solutions for our community.

Wolverine’s Commitment to Collaboration and Response to Litigation

At the same time Wolverine continues to work tirelessly on behalf of our community, we have repeatedly said that we will vigorously defend ourselves against litigation and take action to ensure that all involved parties – including 3M and our insurers – take responsibility for this matter.  Most recently, for example, Wolverine filed a lawsuit in federal court against 3M, which developed, tested, manufactured and sold Scotchgard™ to Wolverine and millions of others for decades, yet has repeatedly refused to accept any responsibility for the consequences.

One subject that has come up is a Plainfield Township plan to extend its municipal water system to certain homes in the area.  Wolverine has said from the start that we intend to be part of developing water quality solutions for our community – and our actions to-date have backed up these words.  Whether these solutions include the extension of municipal water, and whether Plainfield Township or a different entity would be the supplier, however, has not yet been decided.  Those decisions will be based on facts and data that are still being gathered, as well as discussions with regulators and other involved parties – not through rhetoric and grandstanding by Township officials.

Finally, we firmly believe all parties – including 3M – must be involved in discussing and developing solutions.  Far from representing a change in position, as Township officials have claimed, this has been Wolverine’s position from the start, which we have expressed publicly, privately, and in court by suing 3M and our insurers.

Wolverine’s Next Steps

Over the coming months, we will continue working hard every day on behalf of our friends, family, and neighbors in the community, and working collaboratively with regulators and other involved parties on next steps.  Additional information will be posted on our blog, WeAreWolverine.com, as it becomes available, and in the meantime please feel free to reach out to us directly at (616) 866-5627 or HouseStreet@wwwinc.com.

Wolverine Worldwide Submits Reports of 2018 Testing at Former Tannery and House Street Sites; Provides Additional Details on Tannery Filtration System

Testing Reports

Wolverine Worldwide has been working diligently with regulators over the past 24 months to conduct testing and collect data from our former Tannery and House Street sites.  We shared preliminary results from the Tannery in November 2017, and from House Street in May 2018.  We announced plans to conduct additional testing at these sites in May 2018 and June 2018.

Wolverine operated the Tannery in Rockford from the early 1890s until it was closed in 2009, then decommissioned, demolished, and tested under EPA and MDEQ supervision.  For a period of time while the Tannery was in operation, certain leather was treated with Scotchgard™, which 3M developed and profited from by selling it to Wolverine and millions of others.  House Street was a state-licensed and regulated disposal site where byproducts from Wolverine’s tannery operations were disposed of during the 1960s and beginning of 1970.

The additional testing completed at these two locations in 2018 was extensive, and included more than 1,700 groundwater, surface water, sediment, soil, and vapor gas samples, along with the installation of 107 monitoring wells and almost 800 soil borings.  Substances tested for included PFOA, PFOS, and other PFAS compounds, along with metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and organic compounds.

The work completed is depicted on these maps, and work at the former Tannery is described in this detailed Summary Report we submitted to the EPA in January 2019.  We submitted a similar report to the EPA regarding 2018 testing at House Street, and we will release that report once the EPA has completed its review.

The results of the extensive groundwater testing at the former Tannery were largely consistent with those received in earlier testing and, as a reminder, this groundwater is not used for drinking water.  A few locations had elevated levels of certain compounds in soils below the surface, and Wolverine has proposed to remove those soils and to also take the following actions that are under review by the EPA:

  • Kayak Launch Area: The installation of a protective matting in the area around the boat launch where the public may walk in the water during boat launch or removal. Once the matting is installed, it will be covered with gravel similar to the gravel currently installed at the boat launch near the water line.
  • Rum Creek Access Area: Install a fence between the river and the White Pine Trail to minimize access to this area while the investigation continues.
  • Lead and Chromium: Continue testing to identify and locate the extent of these materials and excavate those materials where necessary.

Rogue River Tannery Filtration System

We also wanted to provide an update to the community on the filtration system we announced last year to intercept and treat groundwater from the former Tannery before it reaches the Rogue River.  We took the initiative to develop and implement a solution to remove PFOA and PFOS (two of the chemicals from 3M’s Scotchgard product), as well as a range of other substances from groundwater at the former Tannery because the Rogue River is important to Wolverine, and we know how important it is to the community.

Currently, we are completing the design and engineering of the system.  Earlier this year, we drilled three extraction wells in the locations shown on this map, which will be used in the system to intercept groundwater from the former Tannery site and divert it to a filtration system.

Over the next few months, we will be installing and testing the filtration equipment, which will remove PFOA, PFOS, a range of other PFAS compounds, metals, VOCs, SVOCs, and organic compounds. We expect the system will be installed and ready to begin operating by Fall of this year.  Wolverine will regularly monitor its effectiveness and provide additional details as they become available.

All of these efforts represent additional examples of Wolverine’s commitment to working proactively and aggressively to address groundwater issues in the area, and to doing its part to address them.  Residents with questions are encouraged to visit our blog at www.WeAreWolverine.com, or to contact us directly at (616) 866-5627 or HouseStreet@wwwinc.com.

Extensive Data Demonstrates Continued Effectiveness of Whole House Filters

Wolverine Worldwide responded quickly in 2017 to the discovery of PFOA and PFOS in area groundwater by, among other actions, providing over 500 whole house filters to homeowners in our community.

Over the past 16 months, Wolverine has been maintaining and regularly testing these filters, and has collected over 3,000 samples as part of that process.  The most recent results continue to show that these filters eliminate PFOA and PFOS (two of the chemicals from 3M’s Scotchgard product), as well as a range of other PFAS compounds.  We wanted to share these updated results – which are consistent with those we posted in January 2018 and April 2018 – as part of our ongoing commitment to keep the community informed.

Additional details and highlights of the most recent testing show:

  • The whole house filters are eliminating PFOA, PFOS, and a range of other PFAS compounds. This applies across all homes, including those with the highest and lowest concentrations.
  • Any sporadic appearances of these compounds during testing were not repeated when retested, and resulted in the third party lab altering its testing protocols to reduce the chances of “false positives.”
  • After 16 months in operation, none of the carbon canisters have required replacement – even at homes with the highest concentrations. Since every filter includes at least two carbon canisters, this means the systems are 100% redundant.
  • When the carbon canisters do need to be replaced, the PFOA, PFOS and other PFAS compounds will be destroyed, and will not be returned to the environment.
  • Additional details about the operation and maintenance of the filters is available here, and a depiction of the filter system design is available here.

We will continue to keep the community updated about monitoring results and filter maintenance through our blog at WeAreWolverine.com.  Any residents with questions are encouraged to contact us directly at (616) 866-5627 of HouseStreet@wwwinc.com.