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Attorney general hears from residents on proposed settlement of PFAS lawsuit

Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in Rockford.

Many residents in northern Kent County say they're happy with a proposed settlement agreement over contamination from chemicals known as PFAS in the area, though some said they wish the agreement would go further. 

The Michigan attorney general's office held a forum to hear public comments on its consent decree Monday night in Rockford. More than 100 people showed up.

The state filed a lawsuit along with Plainfield and Algoma townships against Wolverine Worldwide in 2018. The shoe company based in Rockford used PFAS and other related chemicals as waterproofing. The chemicals made their way into the soil and water.

Certain kinds of PFAS have been associated with health problems.

“The fact is, I don’t know how it feels to be any of you right now, I honestly don’t,” Attorney General Dana Nessel told the audience.

But she promised the audience transparency, and said she would follow up on their comments. She said her office worked to come up with a settlement for the lawsuit, so people wouldn’t have to wait years for the case to play out.

“And I know it seems like it’s been forever, but in courtroom time, in litigation time, this has actually come about quite quickly,” Nessel said. “But I can understand for everybody here tonight, certainly not quickly enough."

Many who offered comments during the meeting said they’re happy with a lot of it.

"I know it's not all things for everyone, and I wish it were," said Sandy Lynn-Stelt.

The consent decree calls for Wolverine Worldwide to pay $69.5 million to connect about 1,000 homes in the affected area to municipal water, so residents won’t face the risk of contaminated well water. The company would also have to continue testing for contamination and provide water filters.

“I really am grateful that we have been able to come to some resolution,” said Sandy Wynn-Stelt, one of the community members who first raised the alarm about PFAS contamination in the area. “I know it’s not all things for everyone, and I wish it were. But I think it’s at least bringing some clean water to my neighbors, and that is first and foremost what I want.”

Others at the meeting say they hope the agreement can include stronger provisions for public comments to be included in future plans for dealing with the contamination.

There were also concerns that the proposed agreement doesn’t go far enough to continue blood tests and health monitoring.

Tim Osbeck says he lived for 20 years in one of the contaminated neighborhoods. He says his blood tested at 15 times the normal amount for PFAS.

"My wife who was home for 20 years is 60 times what the normal person would have,” he said. “I guess my comment is I’m disappointed that there is no provision for medical monitoring for people like us.”

Comments from the meeting will be submitted to the federal judge overseeing the lawsuit, who has the final say on whether to approve the consent decree.

To read the full proposed consent decree click here.

The attorney general’s office says it will continue to accept emailed comments on the consent decree through February 13th. Those comments can be sent to: AG-WolverineCD@michigan.gov.

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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