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New legislation would raise the statute of limitations on lawsuits over groundwater contamination

PFAS foam on the Huron River.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

New legislation in the Michigan Senate would increase the timeframe during which legal action could be taken against polluters in Michigan.

Under current state law, the clock on when legal action can be taken starts ticking at the moment pollution occurs.

State legislators say that is far too soon. They argue it can sometimes take decades before pollution is discovered - or before a substance is even identified as toxic.

Democratic State Senator Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said her legislation would start the timer on a statute of limitations when it is “reasonable” for a person to know that their area has been polluted.

“So many communities and so many residents live with a lot of uncertainty about their health or their financial future because of exposure to things like PFAS,” she said. “This gives them a chance at a fair fight in a court of law.”

The legislation does not specifically name PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl substances, but Brinks said the recent discoveries of PFAS around the state spurred her legislation.

Certain kinds of PFAS are linked to a variety of negative health outcomes, including cancer.

“And especially in the case of PFAS for instance we know that people aren’t aware that it was a harmful substance or even that it was in their water in this case for many years, even decades,” Brinks said.

The second of two bills introduced by Brinks would allow the state to sue polluters for damages even at sites where remediation efforts are already underway.

“If they’ve already started a cleanup for chemicals and become aware during that time frame they can also seek remediation and financial resources in order to do that cleanup of a newly discovered or newly regulated chemical like PFAS.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel released a statement noting she supports the legislation. The statement said the bills would ensure “residents have a fair process through which to make claims for damages.”

The Attorney General said the legislation would also help ensure taxpayers are not paying to clean up the messes caused by those who are responsible for contaminating the environment.

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