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Tannery Waste Threatens MI Town’s Water Supply

Littered parts of town are actually called 'Leather Hill' and 'Barrel Valley.'

Back in 2009, Wolverine World Wide announced that it planned to close a tannery in Rockford, Michigan that was more than 100 years old. Even though the riverside tannery was infamous for emitting a foul odor associated with tanning pigskins, the closing was deemed an "end of an era" -- if only a smelly one. After all, turning raw pigskin into suede and leather was a dirty job, but it paid the bills for local residents.

The following year, the facility was demolished and many thought the tannery would fade into history. Then the relics started showing up. Old barrels, scraps of leather, and leather hides dotted parts of the community that are now called "Leather Hill" and "Barrel Valley." These properties are near an old Wolverine World Wide hazardous waste disposal site that is pouring toxic chemicals into local wells. Still that doesn't explain why these barrels, which contain perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), are dotting the woodlands around the waste site.

Unfortunately, the extent of the damage doesn't end in the forest. According to extensive reporting from MLive, which broke the story, local rivers are lined with leather scraps - some even still bear the company's brand names. A senior executive at Wolverine said, "We shouldn't have done it." He also committed the company to cleaning up the waste, which could be extensive and ongoing.

The biggest issue is the water. Last week, high levels of hazardous chemicals were found in private wells. A local school was forced to turn off its faucets and switch to bottled water while the water is tested. At first, Wolverine was offering residents bottled water and kitchen tap filters, but now the company will install whole-home water filtration for any houses testing above the federal health level for PFCs.

The investigation is ongoing, and the full extent of the contamination remains unknown.

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