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Wolverine's solution to PFAS crisis 'doesn't make sense' says expert, while residents cry foul

Chemical barrels containing PFAS


Michigan's Department of Great Lakes and Energy held a public hearing Wednesday evening, and reviewed how Local shoemaker Wolverine Worldwide plans to clean up a decades old landfill that contaminated the drinking water wells of dozens of households. But Belmont residents on House Street say, they aren’t satisfied with the proposal. And local water experts agree.

Over 60 years ago, Wolverine Worldwide dumped waste from its waterproofing tannery in Belmont. Over time, land adjacent to that landfill was developed, and the waste, containing per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, leached from drum barrels and made its way into the drinking water wells of nearby homes. And in a public hearing Wedensday, Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy presented how Wolverine Worldwide is proposing to makes thing right.

The answer? Planting trees.

The process is called phytoremediation, and the idea is to plant roughly 4000 trees over the dump site, and let the roots of those trees soak up the PFAS chemicals out of the ground. The second method, strategic capping, involves installing specially engineered membranes over the thickest areas of PFAS, preventing that PFAS from getting into the groundwater.

While there is data to suggest it could potentially work, some aren’t sold on the idea.

“No matter how strong the uptake might be from the roots, it is not going to get all of that PFAS out by any means, and the rest of it--remaining in those soils--will move in the groundwater,” Dr. Alan Steinman of Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute told WGVU Wednesday.

Dr. Steinman is one of West Michigan’s leading authorities on PFAS contaminated water.

“It doesn’t make any sense, it is not the right solution,” Steinman said. “If they really want to be a good community steward like they claim they want to be, then the thing to do is really remove all of it from the soils," he said.

"They were the people that put it there, and they need to get it out.” 

Steinman adds that the option to excavate the PFAS plume from the House Street Landfill would cost Wolverine Worldwide at least $200 million, while planting trees would cost the company an estimated $12 million.

Meanwhile, some House Street residents are crying foul, like Sandy Wynn Stelt, who lives directly across the street from the landfill. Diagonosed with cancer six months ago, Wynn Stelt's husband died from cancer a few years ago.

She says they had both been drinking the contaminated water for over two decades.

“Planting trees is not going to stop the contamination from spreading. I have witnessed firsthand what this contamination can do,” Wynn Stelt said. This house is two for two for cancer,” she said.

No final decisions have been made by the Department of Great Lakes and Energy on whether to proceed with Wolverine’s plans.

Wolverine has agreed to pay roughly $70 million to install Plainfield Township water lines to homes affected by the PFAS contamination, including those on House Street.


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