Toxic Tap Water

Judge: 3M should also answer to local PFAS lawsuits

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kent County judge on Tuesday ruled that Wolverine Worldwide Inc. of Rockford shouldn't be the only company answering to complaints about PFAS contaminating wells in northern Kent County.

Circuit Court Judge George Quist ruled that Minnesota-based 3M, the maker of PFAS, could also be held responsible in about 150 cases filed by more than 400 residents.

The ruling is a victory for Wolverine, which is still the only defendant in the case.

Aaron Phelps, the attorney for the residents, said the judge's ruling will give his clients the option of adding 3M to the lawsuit as a defendant. He said they have until August to make the decision.

Even if that doesn't happen, a jury would still be allowed to find 3M at fault.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the toxic tap water investigation

Wolverine Worldwide, which used 3M's Scotchgard to treat its shoes for decades, had asked the judge to include 3M in the case. Wolverine claims 3M should be held responsible because it didn't warn it about the potential dangers of PFAS, a likely carcinogen, that was in the Scotchgard.

Wolverine "asserts that 3M has known about the harmful effects of its (PFAS) products for decades, yet it continued to sell defendant (PFAS) products without providing any warnings," the judge wrote in his opinion.

Lawyers for residents in Plainfield and Algoma townships argued Wolverine alone should be held responsible for how it dumped the chemical.

Some residents claim the contamination caused their cancers, caused miscarriages and led to three deaths.

Last year, Target 8 uncovered a 1999 letter from 3M to Wolverine warning of the potential dangers of PFAS. That was long after Wolverine had stopped dumping the chemical in northern Kent County, but it raised questions about why Wolverine didn't act sooner.

"They want to blame 3M," Phelps, the residents' attorney, said. "They want to say if 3M had told us the dangers, they would have been more careful. But when the dangers became very evident, they did nothing."

Wolverine dumped sludge from its Rockford tannery at a dump on House Street NE in Belmont until 1970. It also dumped it on farm fields as far north as Algoma Township.

PFAS has seeped into the wells of more than 800 homes over an area that is five miles long and six miles wide. Wolverine has installed filters at many of those homes.

The chemical also has seeped into the Rogue River from its former tannery, leading to fish advisories and a recent advisory about PFAS foam that forms on the river.

In a statement, Wolverine said the ruling would allow jurors to "hold 3M responsible at trial for its actions."

Earlier this year, 3M agreed to pay $850 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the state of Minnesota over its dumping of PFAS in that state.

RESOURCES FOR PLAINFIELD AND ALGOMA TOWNSHIP RESIDENTS:

If you are eligible for a whole-house water filtration system from Wolverine Worldwide, you can call 616.866.5627 or email HouseStreet@wwwinc.com.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Environmental Assistance Center can be reached at 1.800.662.9278.

Websites with additional information on the contamination:


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