water contamination

BRYCE HUFFMAN / Michigan Radio

News that the state of Minnesota recently settled a lawsuit against 3M caught our eye. That's the company whose chemicals were used by Wolverine Worldwide to water-proof shoes – chemicals that have now contaminated drinking water in the Grand Rapids area.

The $850 million settlement was over water contamination from similar chemicals that are all part of a broader group called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

A rusty barrel in the woods
Bryce Huffman

A Kent County woman believes groundwater contamination caused complications during her pregnancy, and that PFAS exposure may be to blame for the newborn's death.

Wolverine Worldwide is the shoe manufacturer believed to have contaminated groundwater near Rockford with PFAS. That's a family of chemicals often used to waterproof leather.

Ashlee Naffziger lived in Rockford for about 13 years before moving out of her mom’s house. She was on private well water during that time.

Van Etten Lake in Oscoda, Michigan
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

People who live in Oscoda are concerned about foam containing toxic chemicals known as per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances – or PFAS – that keeps appearing on Van Etten Lake.

The serene lake in Northeast Michigan is surrounded by trees and houses. But it also has foamy stuff that looks like soap scum floating along its shores.

Residents are wondering why the state isn’t doing more about it.

Water running from tap
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

Some Plainfield Township residents left the open forum to discuss municipal water with more questions than answers last night.

The community north of Grand Rapids is dealing with ongoing groundwater contamination.

The toxic chemicals known as PFAS are in the municipal water, but township officials say it tested below the EPA advisory level of 70 parts per trillion.

Residents were supposed to be allowed to speak to township officials one-on-one about their water and the township’s potential changes to the municipal system.

Ross and Donna Tingley
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

At least 14 communities in Michigan have water contaminated with a family of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

One of those sites, in West Michigan, has gotten a lot of attention recently. This month, the state abruptly announced a cleanup standard for PFAS.

But these chemicals have been a pollution problem in the state for years.

In Oscoda, some residents are wondering why remediation is taking so long.

Judge's gavel

The state has filed a lawsuit against the shoe company believed to have caused ongoing groundwater contamination in Kent County.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality wants Wolverine Worldwide to come up with a timeline for the remediation.


Michigan has set new cleanup rules for chemicals that have contaminated drinking water sources all around the state. The chemicals in question are per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

They were used in firefighting foam and in a wide range of products, from fast-food paper wrappers to textiles and carpeting, pesticides, printing inks, and more. They have since been linked to some cancers and other health problems.

The DEQ PFAS Investigation Map near Rockford, MI.
From Goole map provided by Wolverine Worldwide

Residents in Kent County might have to wait a bit longer before they know all of the health effects of the chemicals in their groundwater.

A study about the effects of PFAS exposure is being delayed while Kent County officials get help from federal health experts.

A rusty barrel in the woods
Bryce Huffman

On Monday, environmental activist Erin Brockovich spoke at a west Michigan town hall.

She was there in support of a class-action lawsuit filed against three companies – 3M, Wolverine Worldwide, and Waste Management.

The suit accuses them of dumping toxic waste and polluting the groundwater in several areas of Kent County with a family of chemicals known as PFAS, which stands for per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Erin Brockovich speaking to West Michigan residents at town hall meeting
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

Consumer advocate and environmental activist Erin Brockovich wants West Michigan residents to join a class action suit against shoe manufacturer Wolverine Worldwide.

Brockovich held a town hall meeting Saturday to let residents know what work she has done and plans to do for them.

Water faucet
user william_warby / Flickr

West Michigan's Plainfield Township wants to make sure the toxic chemicals polluting some private wells don't contaminate its municipal water system. So it's adding a filter to the water treatment plant.

The township's board of trustees approved plans for a $400,000 filter that would remove toxic chemicals called per- and polyflouralky substances – or PFAS – from the water.

The DEQ PFAS Investigation Map near Rockford, MI.
From Goole map provided by Wolverine Worldwide

A West Michigan lawmaker wants the CEO of a major shoe manufacturer to testify in front of state House oversight committee.

Wolverine Worldwide, which is based just north of Grand Rapids, is believed to be responsible for groundwater contamination in northern Kent County.

A courtroom
Bill Ledbetter / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Some national law firms filed a class action lawsuit today against Wolverine Worldwide and 3M Corporation over a toxic chemical plume in West Michigan.

The suit alleges that Wolverine dumped harmful chemicals in the environment. It also alleges that the company didn't do enough to fix the problem.

A "no trespassing" sign from the House Street site boundary.
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

People in northern Kent County have been dealing with the recent discovery of groundwater contamination for the past several months.

Some residents still have questions about what caused it and how it could affect their health.

A car at Genaral Motors' Milford Proving Grounds
General Motors

A group of Brighton Township residents is suing General Motors for groundwater contamination stemming from the company's Milford Proving Grounds.

The class-action lawsuit filed in Livingston County Circuit Court alleges that GM knew about contamination to water sources from salt used to maintain roads and testing areas at the facility for more than 30 years.

East Rockford Middle School
Rockford Public Schools

One West Michigan school community can feel more at ease. Water samples from East Rockford Middle School were tested, and show no signs of toxic chemicals.

The chemicals that were tested for are known as PFAS, and they are often used to waterproof leather goods.

Map from the MDEQ of affected area

More people in West Michigan might be getting their drinking water tested for chemical contamination.

The state has added 300 homes to its investigation, about 10 miles north of Grand Rapids.

East Rockford Middle School
Rockford Public Schools

A West Michigan shoe manufacturer is sending bottled water to East Rockford Middle School. 

An old dumpsite for shoemaker Wolverine Worldwide is believed to be responsible for a chemical leak in the area that could pose health risks. That dumpsite is within a mile of the school.

About 800 students are drinking bottled water until groundwater test results come back.

Water faucet
user william_warby / Flickr

A West Michigan shoe company is supplying whole-house water filters to some residents affected by water contamination near Grand Rapids.

Chris Hufnagel is with Wolverine Worldwide, the company believed to be responsible for the toxic chemicals, called PFASs, that were discovered in private drinking wells.

Map from the MDEQ of affected area

The shoe manufacturing company believed to have contaminated groundwater in two West Michigan communities still doesn't know exactly how it happened.

Chris Hufnagel is with Wolverine World Wide, the shoe company believed to be the source of the toxic chemicals.

Town hall panel meeting at Rockford High School
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

Uncertainty lingers in West Michigan following an informational town hall meeting about contaminated well water.

State and county health official know the toxic chemicals discovered in Belmont and Plainfield Township are often used in leather goods.

Rockford High School

A public town hall meeting will be held in Rockford tomorrow night to discuss contaminated groundwater.

The toxic chemicals were discovered by county health officials last month in private wells in Belmont, about 10 miles north of Grand Rapids.

water faucet
Laura Nawrocik / Flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is investigating whether a shoe manufacturer is responsible for water contamination in West Michigan.

In the 1960s, Wolverine Worldwide used a licensed dump site near Rockford to get rid of waste from its leather tanning process. Two chemicals used in the process, PFOS and PFOA, are now showing up in nearby residential wells.

water going into cup from faucet
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Grayling water officials announced in July they had found trace amounts of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, in the municipal water supply. The levels are nowhere near the concentration of PFCs considered to be a health hazard by the Environmental Protection Agency.

David Andrews, senior scientist with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group spoke with Stateside to help us understand this mysterious family of chemicals and explore exactly what the news means for the Grayling area.

A map of the 13 trillion gallon plume of contaminated groundwater extending from Mancelona, Michigan.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

When I arrive at Bethany Hawkins' home, the first thing she does is offer me a glass of her well water.
"Our water's always been really good," she says.

Water running from tap
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

Researchers have found some kinds of chemicals are harder to filter from water.

These compounds belong to a family called highly fluorinated chemicals. They’re used to make carpets, clothes and cookware stain and water repellant.

They’ve also been used in firefighting foam at military bases and airports. Those chemicals from firefighting foam have contaminated drinking water around the country, including drinking water wells near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base near Oscoda.

Asbestos sign
Michael Coghlan / Flickr, http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Environmental Protection Agency just put out a list of ten high priority chemicals.

These are the first chemicals the agency will review for risks to human health and the environment under a new law that Congress passed this summer.

Oscoda residents talk with government officials about the PFC plumes contaminating their wells.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Residents of a northern Michigan town are getting briefed today on a threat to their drinking water.

For decades, fire crews trained at Wurtsmith Air Force Base not far from Lake Huron. But while the base closed more than 20 years ago, the chemicals used to extinguish the flames continue to seep into nearby wells and streams.

The plumes of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) have been migrating from the former air force base into surrounding neighborhoods and the Au Sable River. PFCs have also been detected in fish in Lake Huron.