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Wolverine Worldwide and 3M agree to $54 million settlement over Kent County PFAS contamination

A map showing areas where property owners may be eligible for settlement funds from the PFAS lawsuit, as seen in the proposed settlement filed in federal court.
Court filing for U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan
A map showing areas where property owners may be eligible for settlement funds from the PFAS lawsuit, as seen in the proposed settlement filed in federal court.

A federal judge has given preliminary approval to a $54 million settlement to homeowners affected by PFAS contamination in northern Kent County.

PFAS — short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — have been linked to elevated risks of certain cancers and other health problems

The contamination from harmful PFAS chemicals came from a shoe factory owned by Wolverine Worldwide. Homeowners sued Wolverine and 3M, the company that made the waterproofing chemical that caused the contamination.

It’s one of several lawsuits filed after homeowners in the area discovered the PFAS contamination in 2017.

Two years ago, 3M agreed to pay $55 million to Wolverine Worldwide to cover its obligations stemming from a lawsuit filed by the state of Michigan. Wolverine agreed to pay more than $69 million to pay for homes with contaminated wells in the area to be connected to municipal water systems. Under the proposed settlement announced this week, owners of those homes could be eligible for additional payments themselves.

The proposal calls for breaking up the $54 million among four groups of property owners: 

  • Those who are eligible to be connected to municipal water;
  • Those who received filters for their well water ;
  • Properties where no filtration is in place, and where PFAS levels tested below state standards; and
  • Properties that are vacant, or where the water hasn’t been tested. 

Within those groups, property owners would be eligible for higher payments if their water showed higher levels of PFAS.
To be eligible, people would have to show proof of owning the property as of November of 2017. About 1,700 people could be eligible, according to the court filing announcing the settlement.

In that filing, attorneys said they would notify eligible property owners about the proposed settlement in the next 30 days.

In a statement, Wolverine said it would continue to work with residents to address the contamination that came from its factory.

“We are pleased to have settled this lawsuit,” the statement from a company spokesperson said, “and believe this settlement represents another important step towards resolving this matter and doing the right thing for our community. Wolverine will continue to provide municipal water in the area, conduct environmental remediation at our House Street and former tannery properties, and monitor wells for PFAS.

Hala Jarbou, the federal judge overseeing the case, has scheduled a hearing for March 29, 2023, in Lansing to decide whether to grant final approval to the settlement plan.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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