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Lawsuit: GM responsible for water contamination in Brighton Township

A car at Genaral Motors' Milford Proving Grounds
General Motors

A group of Brighton Township residents is suing General Motors for groundwater contamination stemming from the company's Milford Proving Grounds.

The class-action lawsuit filed in Livingston County Circuit Court alleges that GM knew about contamination to water sources from salt used to maintain roads and testing areas at the facility for more than 30 years.

It says the company "concealed and ignored" that information until 2014, when the company acknowledged the proving grounds' contribution to the pollution. 

Attorney Alex Memmen says the plaintiffs had long been suspicious of their well water due to its strange taste and smell. He says their suspicions were confirmed in 2005, when the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality informed them their wells contained unsafe levels of sodium chloride.

"[GM has] been using literally thousands of tons of salt for years at that facility. That salt has essentially made the drinking water for the people who live at the Oaks neighborhood and the area around it undrinkable," Memmen said.

The Environmental Protection Agency says prolonged exposure to high amounts of sodium and chloride can damage the liver and kidney, as well as cause hypertension and high blood pressure.

Memmen says GM is currently providing bottled water to residents with contaminated wells.

When asked for comment on the lawsuit, GM issued the following statement:

GM does not believe this suit has merit. Salt deposits naturally occur in this area, and salt is also used on the many nearby public roads during winter. Nonetheless, acting as a good neighbor, salt usage at the Milford Proving Ground has been reduced by 60% over the last two decades and GM submits regular reports on the groundwater quality at the Milford Proving Ground to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. We cannot comment further on the specifics.

Plaintiffs are seeking a financial settlement and reimbursement for clean-up and repair. They're also asking the court to compel GM to no longer pollute their neighborhood.

Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.