PARCHMENT, Mich. (WOOD/AP) — A federal lawsuit blames two companies for high amounts of the likely carcinogen PFAS found in the drinking water system for Parchment and Cooper Township.

Lawyers for Parchment residents David Dykehouse and Elizabeth Hamblin as well as Paw Paw resident Kristina Boskovich filed the lawsuit against Georgia-Pacific and 3M Thursday in the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

It accuses both companies of:

  • Creating a nuisance by impacting the lives of residents, trespassing by causing contaminants to enter into their properties
  • Unjust enrichment for not disposing of PFAS “in a safer and more appropriate manner”
  • Negligence and gross negligence for not carefully disposing of PFAS substances
  • Defective design for creating PFAS products that didn’t prevent human exposure to potentially toxic chemicals
  • Failure to warn residents about the risks their products posed
  • Battery for not stopping the release of PFAS into the environment, which caused direct harm to the plaintiffs

The lawsuit states 3M created products containing PFAS that were used at the former Crown Vantage paper mill the contamination likely originated from, and that Georgia-Pacific was responsible for closing the mill’s landfill, but “closed in a way that did not protect groundwater from contamination by PFAS or other harmful substances in the Landfill.”

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“It’s the familiar narrative of where, ‘Oh, this is safe, Oh, this is safe, Oh, this is safe,’ and then there’s slowly a cascade into acknowledging, ‘Well, it’s safe under these conditions’ and ‘Well, it only has these certain impacts.’ And as more and more layers of the onion get peeled back, eventually you get to the truth of the matter, which is that this is some really, really bad stuff,” said Nicholas Coulson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

24 Hour News 8 contacted 3M for a response and were given a statement, which says, in part: “3M acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS and will vigorously defend its environmental stewardship.”

Georgia-Pacific also responded in a statement: “There is no direct link between the city of Parchment’s municipal wells and the former…landfill,” the statement said. It went on to say Georgia-Pacific “never owned or operated” the Parchment paper mill. Finally, Georgia-Pacific provided a copy of an MDEQ letter, stating the DEQ certified Georgia-Pacific’s closure of the landfill. 

The lawsuit concedes that Georgia- Pacific has already voluntarily agreed to install monitor wells, collect and analyze groundwater, and report the results to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

However, the plaintiffs are seeking class-action status and calling financial compensation and funding to evaluate the health of area residents.

“It’s probably not difficult for people to imagine that when you go sue a massive conglomerate, like 3M, or a massive entity, like Georgia Pacific, they’ve got enormous resources to spend on lawyers, on expert witnesses, on all sorts of litigation strategies,” Coulson said.

If the plaintiffs prevail, Coulson says the payout could be significant.

“But we also acknowledge and certainly understand the financial ramifications this could have and the potential damages are very, very significant and so we’re seeking those as well,” he said.

Parchment’s water system draws from three wells. In July, local, county and state officials urged more than 3,000 residents relying on the water system to stop drinking tap water, after tests showed PFAS levels of 1,300 parts per trillion and 1,400 ppt — up to 20 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s accepted level of 70 ppt.

Officials have since switched over Parchment to Kalamazoo’s water system. In late August, tests in Parchment and Cooper Township found acceptable levels of PFAS.