GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is suing a manufacturer over alleged failure to clean up PFAS and other hazardous substances, saying FKI Hardware needs to be held accountable for leaving “a legacy of contamination” in West Michigan.
FKI Hardware is based in California and now primarily does business in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The company owns nine former Keeler Brass foundry, metal finishing and plating plants across West Michigan that operated for decades until 2016.
Announcing the lawsuit Thursday, Nessel said the sites released “numerous hazardous substances into the environment,” including the carcinogen PFAS, posing a risk to the people there.
“Some of these substances at certain concentrations can seep up through the soil and pose risk to people breathing in the air in buildings and also above the contamination sites,” Nessel said.
The contamination was in soil and groundwater at the facilities, Nessel said.
“Michiganders have a right to live, work and play without worrying about being exposed to the risks associated with PFAS or other contaminants,” Nessel said.
After PFAS was discovered in private residential wells in the Belmont area in 2017, linked to a local shoe manufacturer, Michigan launched a widespread survey for the emerging contaminant. Since then, state officials have detected more than 200 contaminated sites across the state.
“The one thing we all have in common is we all have PFAS in our blood,” Nessel said. “We all need to take this matter very, very seriously.
At a former plant on Godfrey Avenue in Grand Rapids, the states says there is an “imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment. According to the lawsuit, the contamination is at levels “demonstrated to present acute negative health risks” to people in and around the building.
“Michigan law requires all businesses to address the pollution that they cause,” Nessel said. “FKI Hardware and its predecessors have refused to do what all businesses in Michigan must do. And that is simply unacceptable.”
The attorney general claimed that despite three years of efforts from the state, FKI has not fully investigated nor addressed the pollution. Now, she wants the Kent County Circuit Court to force FKI to do so.
“It’s unacceptable for companies like FKI Hardware to pollute Michigan’s environment and put the health and safety of Michigan families at risk, and then leave without addressing the contamination they left behind,” Nessel said.
Nessel is also asking for damages for what the lawsuit calls “the destruction of natural resources” because of the pollution.
Sandy Wynn-Steldt is the co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network. She lives in the Belmont area where PFAS was found to have contaminated the groundwater and was found to have high levels of PFAS in her blood. Her husband died of liver cancer and Wynn-Stelt herself had thyroid and lymph cancer, too.
“People pollute us and just bail out and leave taxpayers to clean up the mess,” she said. “That is a nonpartisan issue. We all believe if you make a mess you have to clean it up.”
“We need polluters and manufacturers to be the one that foot the bill,” she added. “Not taxpayers.”
In the lawsuit, Nessel is also asking for damages, blaming FKI for destroying natural resources through the pollution.
Those involved say their fight is far from over.
“We don’t think it’s too late,” said Polly Synk with the Attorney General’s office. “We think there’s always a need to try to do better, contain this contamination, look for ways better technology to destroy it, to minimize it, and find ways to just keep it from continuing to be the problem that we’re seeing today.”
“We put a man on the moon,” Wynn-Steldt added. “We all learned the macarena at one point. And we figured out how to unmute Zoom. We can do things when we put our minds to it — I really believe it. But we can’t do it if people pollute us and then just bail out and leave taxpayers to clean up the mess.”
The lawsuit is part of the state’s PFAS Litigation Project, pursuing companies involved in these cases.
“Ensuring that new products that are out there don’t contain PFAS… whether it’s remediation efforts… or whether it’s efforts to hold polluters accountable… we have to be tireless in finding some sort of a fix,” Nessel said.