EPA turns tannery site back to Wolverine, MDEQ

by BETH ALTENA

A public meeting held jointly by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency drew a large crowd in April. The subject was the progress of a study of the former Wolverine tannery property. The study was prompted by petition of three individuals in Rockford concerned with potential contamination from the site.

One year after beginning an investigation into the potential leak of contaminants on the Wolverine Worldwide (WWW) former tannery site and surrounding areas, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has returned authority to local agencies while reserving the ability to resume control if necessary. The EPA was petitioned June 2011 by three Rockford residents, Lynn McIntosh, Grant Medich and Gail Mancewicz.

In a June 27 letter to Wolverine attorney Michael Robinson, the

EPA states that the federal Preliminary Assessment requested by citizens on June 21 has been completed. The letter states that under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) the EPA has one year to conduct a study unless it determines that such assessment is not appropriate.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and EPA’s Superfund Removal Program participated in the assessment and found: “Elevated levels of several inorganic contaminants have been detected in the surface and subsurface soils in portions of the Site. Chromium, arsenic and mercury have been detected in sediment samples. Arsenic and chromium have also been detected in groundwater. It is likely that contaminated groundwater discharges to the Rogue River. However, the EPA has concluded that a CERCLA removal response action is not warranted at this time, since the concentration and quantity of known contaminants does not present an immediate and substantial threat of release.”

The letter continues, noting that the site scored above 28.50 in the EPA’s Hazardous Ranking System and merits further investigation. On June 14 a letter from the MDEQ recommends further investigation under “Other Cleanup Authority.”

“The EPA has concluded that such a referral is appropriate for the Site. MDEQ has based its request for referral upon receiving your [Wolverine’s] letter (date June 11, 2012) in which Wolverine Worldwide Inc. commits to working with the MEDQ.”

With this decision in hand, WWW will develop an assessment plan to continue the evaluation of the property. The plan will be reviewed and approved by the MDEQ, and WWW will decide what further steps need to be taken, if any, based on the plan.

In a letter dated June 14 from the EPA’s Nuria Muniz to the MDEQ, Muniz states that the property in question was operated as a tannery from 1908 to 2010. She continues that there are four known source areas that are relatively small but the full extent of these areas has not been determined. The letter says groundwater samples from wells indicated an observed release of contaminates from the site to the groundwater and that residents in the area utilize groundwater for drinking water.

“Residents in the immediate vicinity of the site are served by the city of Rockford municipal system which utilizes groundwater wells located approximately one mile southwest of the site.”

“There is no documented evidence of adverse population exposure to soil contamination at the site,” wrote Muniz.

She also stated that there are no documented samples that indicate air contamination originating from the site. “Also there is a limited potential for air migration of contaminants via windblown particulates or gas migration from the site due to the site being fairly well vegetated.”

City Manager Michael Young called the recommendation “very good news” and said, “The findings do indicate further investigation is warranted based on the preliminary assessment and the historic use of the site. This is not surprising and something we have been told and expecting for some time. However, due to the areas which have been characterized as ‘relatively small,’ that there is no evidence of adverse population exposure and because of WWW’s history of cooperation—the MDEQ recommended to the EPA that this will be addressed under ‘Other Cleanup Authority… Ironically this is where WWW and MDEQ were just over a year ago prior to the residents’ petition being submitted. This is also what the City formally requested as part of our involvement in the process.”

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