EPA seeks new contamination tests at Mich. tannery site
Rockford – Federal environmental officials are resuming an investigation into contamination at a former western Michigan tannery five years after the Environmental Protection Agency left the site under state control.
The EPA said new testing will begin this month at the former manufacturing site where Wolverine World Wide used chemicals to waterproof shoe leather.
The EPA has requested Wolverine conduct extensive soil and groundwater sampling across the Rockford property. The site has been open to the community and used as an event space since 2010.
Officials have found arsenic, chromium and lead at the property over the years.
Recent testing found extremely high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, at the site. But the EPA is focusing its probe on contaminants other than PFAS.
The former tannery was considered for the federal Superfund list of toxic sites. But the EPA allowed for oversight by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality after community pushback and extensive lobbying. It’s still possible for the site to attain Superfund status.
Jeffrey Kimble, an EPA Region 5 on-scene coordinator assigned to the investigation, requested the expansion of testing from the company. Kimble is analyzing the site for contaminants that could pose an immediate health risk.
“I’m looking at what people could actually touch if they dug in the dirt, if they had to do excavation or what may migrate off site,” he said.
Children were observed swimming in the downtown river where “sediment and water contamination has been documented,” said Kimble in a January memo. Sediment testing in the neighboring river found elevated levels of arsenic, total chromium, hexavalent chromium, copper, lead, mercury and zinc.
Wolverine said it’s working with regulators and expects to begin fieldwork this summer.