Michigan sues 17 companies over PFAS contamination

Oscoda Township Supervisor Aaron Weed at Clark's Marsh, a PFAS site | Michael Gerstein

Michigan is taking on some of the biggest chemical companies in the country in a lawsuit filed in a Washtenaw County Court asserting that they knew of the dangers of PFAS. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Jan. 14, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel outlined the case and its importance at a press conference on Tuesday, alleging that the 17 companies knowingly concealed information about the health risks of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) while distributing the chemicals in such a way that they knew Michigan residents would be harmed. 

These companies include 3M, DuPont and Corteva Inc.

Whitmer and Nessel said they are actively fulfilling their campaign promises to protect the health of Michigan residents and support environmental health.

“It’s time that these companies, step up, take responsibility and address what has taken place. We can’t — and will not — stop until we ensure that everyone has access to clean drinking water. Michigan has and will continue to be a leader in identifying the pass contamination. We will also become a leader in holding people accountable, and in cleanup,” Whitmer said at the news conference. “Companies that are responsible for these contaminants must be held accountable; polluters must pay.”

It’s “astonishing” everything the general public didn’t know about PFAS and all the products that contain it, Nessel said. 

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PFAS is in everything from leather goods to cookware to fire fighting foam. Its grease and friction resistant qualities have put it in thousands of consumer products, but these same qualities have made it a “forever chemical” and a danger, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Director Liesl Clark.

“Once PFS contamination enters our environment it never leaves it. This contamination is spread and continues to cycle through the environment, causing extensive damage and injury to natural resources, property, and the people of Michigan, who are we are responsible for protecting,” Clark said.

Michiganders are learning the negative health impacts of PFAS contamination primarily by ingesting it in drinking water, Clark said. Some of the health impacts include “decreased fertility, pregnancy induced hypertension, thyroid disease, problems with cholesterol levels, immune system problems and increased risk of cancer, especially kidney and testicular cancer.”

There are 74 known sites of PFAS contamination in Michigan, the most in the country. However, Nessel said Michigan is a leader in locating contamination and the high number of sites speaks to the ability of the state to find and manage the pollution.

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Defendants in the lawsuit are:

  • Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. (3M)
  • DuPont, and DuPont de Nemours Inc., (New DuPont)
  • The Chemours Co.
  • Corteva Inc., part of Defendant Dow DuPont
  • Dyneon LLC
  • Archroma entities
  • Arkema entities
  • AGC Chemicals Americas Inc.
  • Daikin Industries entities
  • Solvay Specialty Polymers, USA LLC
  • Asahi Kasei Plastics North America Inc.

The lawsuit says these companies are responsible for reimbursing the damages done to the state. Nessel said the cost of testing PFAS contamination sites alone costs $25 million a year. This is without the cost of remediation and health impacts, which remains unknown.