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Michigan announces first settlement of 2020 PFAS litigation

 Foam caused by PFAS contamination at one of the many sites in the state where the "forever" chemicals have been found.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Foam caused by PFAS contamination at one of the many sites in the state where the "forever" chemicals have been found.

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 DuPont have 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 the Great 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.

Copyright 2023 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Colin Jackson