Michigan sues 3M, 16 other companies over PFAS

Toxic Tap Water

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan has sued 17 companies that it says are responsible for PFAS contamination around the state.

“Companies that are responsible for these contaminants must be held accountable,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference as she, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Director Liesl Clark announced the suit. “Polluters must pay.”

The defendants named in the lawsuit (PDF) include 3M, DuPont and several others:

  • The Chemours Co., a spinoff of DuPont, and subsidiary The Chemours Co. FC LLX;
  • Corteva Inc., another DuPont spinoff;
  • Dyneon LLC;
  • Archroma entities;
  • Arkema entities;
  • AGC Chemicals Americas Inc.;
  • Daikin Industries entities;
  • Solvay Specialty Polymers, USA LLC; and
  • Asahi Kasei Plastics North America Inc.

“Who knew that firefighting foam, Teflon, leather goods and clothing, and the paper used to wrap the fast food that we eat are just a few of the thousands of industrial and consumer products made with defendants’ ‘forever’ PFAS chemicals that persist and build up in our environment?” Nessel said. “Well, I’ll tell you who knew: the 17 defendants we sued today in the Washtenaw County Circuit Court.”

AG: COMPANIES HID HEALTH THREAT

Nessel alleged that the companies knew that the PFAS they were creating was dangerous, but for decades intentionally concealed its negative health effects, used it, sold it and dumped it, harming Michigan’s natural resources and residents. She called it an example of “the age-old story of companies putting their own profits over customers and environmental safety, and gambling on our lives to boost their bottom line.”

“We are committed to ensuring that the companies responsible for unleashing PFAS on our state will stand up to their obligations and their responsibilities,” Nessel said.

“In every decade since the 1950s, these companies saw increasing evidence of the harm PFAS can bring, and yet, they did nothing to stop it — nothing,” she continued. “These defendants’ persistent failure to act demands that Gov. Whitmer and I take every legal an regulatory action necessary to protect the people and the property of our state.”

She said the defendants continue to deny that PFAS has negative health effects even as more state and federal regulators investigate the emerging contaminant.

A likely carcinogen, PFAS has also been linked to a number of other illnesses, including ulcerative colitis, thyroid problems, high cholesterol, immune system disorders, liver damage, fertility problems and hypertension during pregnancy. It builds up in the body over time and sticks around for a long time.

PFAS FOUND AROUND MICHIGAN

Nessel said the state has confirmed 74 contamination sites and already sunk some $25 million annually into dealing with the problem — most of that for testing.

“The remediation costs are going to be much, much higher,” she said.

In Kent County, contamination of residential wells has been traced back to 3M’s Scotchgard, which Rockford-based Wolverine Worldwide used to waterproof shoes and then dumped decades ago.

A Belmont resident affected by PFAS agrees with Governor Whitmer that it’s time for the polluters to pay.  

plainfield township wolverine worldwide old waste site PFAS 083017_393396
A sign at the former Wolverine Worldwide dump on House Street in Plainfield Township. (2017 file)

For years, News 8 has covered Sandy Wynn-Stelt’s story and the impact PFAS contamination has had on her life. Wynn-Stelt lives across the street from Wolverine’s old dump on House Street NE at the center of the contamination.

“They’ve taken so much,” Wynn-Stelt said. “I’ve lost my husband; I’ve lost my property value. What do I have to lose at this point by just deciding that I want them to be held responsible for this?” 

During Tuesday’s press conference, Nessel referenced Wynn-Stelt’s story and her fight against the forever chemicals.  

“So for example, just a little while ago I met with Sandy Wynn-Stelt, who’s drinking water in Belmont was loaded with PFAS from an old dump,” Nesel said. “She didn’t know her drinking water had PFAS at 542 times above the federal health guidelines level. She didn’t know the PFAS would accumulate in her blood serum at 750 times the national average and she sure didn’t know that she could or should do anything to look out for or to test for these chemicals in her body. So, who did know? I’ll tell you who. These defendants knew.” 

The allegation that the companies were aware that PFAS was dangerous is beyond upsetting to Wynn-Stelt.  

“I think it’s unconscionable,” she said. “I don’t know how they sleep — I really don’t.” 

Since PFAS is a likely carcinogen, Wynn-Stelt can’t help but wonder if the contamination had anything to do with her husband’s death. Her husband Joel died of liver cancer in 2016. 

Shortly afterwards, Wynn-Stelt began her fight against PFAS contamination, saying it’s only right for these companies to be held financially responsible for the mess made. 

“If we don’t hold polluters accountable then the only other people that can be responsible to pay this are taxpayers,” she said. “For every dollar that we’re taking out of taxpayers to clean this up, is a dollar that can’t be used to protect children or to fund schools or fix the roads.” 

Plainfield and Algoma townships reached a settlement with Wolverine in December that will pay to expand a municipal water system to many affected properties.

Nessel said that in Washtenaw County, where the suit was filed, the Huron River watershed has been contaminated. She said she toured the site in 2018 and found PFAS foam on the water and was alarmed by warnings not to eat the river’s fish.

“It doesn’t mean by filing in that county that we can’t recover for all the areas in the state that are impacted and we’ll be seeking that,” Nessel explained.

The state is considering setting its level for PFAS in drinking water at 16 parts per trillion, well below the current federal advisory level of 70 ppt. Some say that doesn’t go far enough.

“Michigan has been established as a leader in protecting the environment and identifying and monitoring and addressing contamination caused by PFAS,” Whitmer said during the press conference, though she said there was still more to do.

The Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to label PFAS a hazardous chemical under the federal Superfund Act. That measure now goes to the Senate. The White House has promised to veto it, arguing it places too much burden on companies.

Online:

Michigan PFAS Action Response Team

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