CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has filed a lawsuit against the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority after multiple warnings and demands for action from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy over the airport’s PFAS contamination, the attorney general’s office said.

According to the attorney general’s office, Nessel is suing “Airport Authority for, among other issues, PFAS releases into the below-ground water supply and seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, past and future remediation and monitoring costs, and damages for the loss and destruction of natural resources.”

PFAS is a class of man-made chemicals that have been linked to various illnesses, including cancer.

“We were surprised as everyone else was with today’s news with the AG’S recent lawsuit,” said Grace Lesperance, supervisor of Cascade Charter Township.

An underwater plume traced back to the Ford airport “covers a large enough area that we think encapsulated the PFAS from the airport from their testing, but that whole watershed flows directly into the Thornapple River and has a much larger effect on not only Cascade Township, but other areas in Kent County,” explained Lesperance.

The lawsuit argues the Airport Authority is liable for the airport’s previous and known releases of PFAS-containing firefighting material. The attorney general’s office said the releases impacted nearby properties and that the chemicals have been found in residential drinking water wells in Cascade Chater Township, streams and underground downgradient of the airport.

EGLE has previously sent several notices to the airport authority regarding the release of the chemicals and requesting information about the releases. The attorney general’s office said it has worked with EGLE to negotiate an agreement to protect the public health, safety and welfare of residents and the environment. A final enforcement notice was sent in March 2021.

“The Airport Authority has had ample opportunity, over several years now, to step up and do the right thing,” Nessel said in a news release. “But as they’ve shown a refusal to accept responsibility for their actions or meaningfully attempt to clean up the messes they have made, we must compel them to act responsibly. Under Michigan law, if you caused the contamination, you must remediate it. We will continue to pursue our claims against the Authority until a satisfactory result is reached that protects the public and the environment.” 

In a statement (PDF) sent to News 8 Monday, Ford Airport said it was “disappointed” that the Attorney General’s Office was pursuing a lawsuit “despite the Airport’s unwavering multi-year commitment to environmental stewardship.”

“The Airport continues extensive, data-driven efforts to proactively assess and mitigate the potential impacts of PFAS … on and off Airport property,” the statement said.

The airport said it has been working with Cascade Township and the city of Grand Rapids to extend municipal water to about 400 homes, partnering with the Federal Aviation Administration and Michigan State University to try out a new way to stabilize PFAS in soil, and continued PFAS testing of its stormwater and soil, as well as groundwater at the airport and elsewhere.

Lesperance also said the township has been working with the airport and the city of Grand Rapids, who own and operate the water system. 

“To make sure that municipal water is extended to over 400 homes who tested positive from the PFAS contamination,” Lesperance said.

PFAS contamination can be seen in the Thornapple River bubbling to the surface. 

Cascade Charter Township and EGLE have been working to find the root of the contamination with state, federal and county funds.

“Prior to that, Cascade Township on its own fronted the bill for whole house filters for all those residents,” said Lesperance. 

The airport reimbursed the township.

Cascade Charter Township created a water project that works in two phases to switch residents from well to municipal water over the next two years. 

Lesperance said the township is thankful the lawsuit is bringing more attention to cleaning up the airport PFAS.

“We’re glad that we are on their radar and if anything it could only help residents here make sure that they are taken care of and that they have safe water and a safe environment to raise their families,” said Lesperance.