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Michigan announces first settlement of 2020 PFAS litigation in Livingston County

PFAS foam in Van Ettan Lake in Oscoda, Michigan near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base.
Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy
PFAS foam in Van Ettan Lake in Oscoda, Michigan near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

Michigan has reached its first settlement in a series of lawsuits over PFAS contamination.

PFAS are a group of chemicals known for the long time they take to break down. Some kinds have been linked to certain cancers.

Under the agreement announced Monday, the plastics company Asahi Kasei Plastics North America (APNA) will have to pay for the full cost of cleanup in Livingston County. Those could total in the millions.

It will also have to pay for the state’s legal fees.

During a media briefing, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she hopes this settlement will lead other companies to follow suit.

“It’s a really simple policy. You made the mess, you clean it up. The end. That’s what we’re looking for,” Nessel said.

Two of the state’s PFAS litigation cases remain pending in state court while others, including lawsuits against 3M and DuPonthave been wrapped up in multi-district litigation.

Nessel told reporters Asahi Kasei’s case became separate because the company wanted to settle.

When asked for a comment, an APNA spokesperson pointed to the company’s partnership with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy outlined in the consent degree.

“Our President and Chief Operating Officer, Todd Glogovsky, would like to stress that APNA is a proud Michigan employer with deep ties to the local community. We are committed to protecting and preserving our State’s environment and acting as a responsible corporation and member of the community,” the spokesperson said in an email.

The extent of possible contamination within Livingston County is unknown. It will be Asahi Kasei’s responsibility under the settlement to pay for the costs of investigation.

Michigan Assistant Attorney General Polly Synk said she’s not sure how long it will take the state resolve the issue. She estimated it probably will take longer than “a couple months,” but she doesn’t anticipate it stretching endless years.”

“This is an area where EGLE knows the groundwater, they know the depth of groundwater, they know the flow, so there’s a lot known. But once you find it, these are forever chemicals, so sometimes treatment can take a long time, even when once you have a handle on the situation,” Synk said.

Some environmental groups are celebrating the agreement as a milestone in the fight against PFAS contamination.

Tony Spaniola co-chairs theGreat Lakes PFAS Action Network. He said he’s most encouraged by the state’s commitment to bring PFAS cases to trial if need be.

“It’s like saying, ‘You know what? We have a police force that’s actually going to enforce the law.’ And so, we ought to all be feeling a little safer because of that. That doesn’t mean that we’re all set and we’re out of the woods because there’s a whole bunch of other lawsuits going on,” Spaniola said.

He said another main piece of the settlement he believes should get more attention is that affected community members get to weigh in on Asahi Kasei’s remediation action plan.

Spaniola stressed Michigan needs to address statute-of-limitations laws that prevent some affected communities from pursuing polluters in court. He also said the state should strengthen its polluter-pay laws as well.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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