Dana Nessel sues former West Michigan company for PFAS and other pollution

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  • Attorney General Dana Nessel sued FKI Hardware to remove PFAS and other chemicals from soil and groundwater at 9 sites
  • Regulators repeatedly contacted FKI, but company refused to cooperate, lawsuit says
  • The company was formerly known as the Keeler Brass Company, founded in western Michigan in 1893.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is suing the out-of-state owners of a former Michigan-based furniture hardware company, alleging it contaminated the state’s soil and groundwater with PFAS and other chemicals.

Nessel filed a lawsuit Thursday against FKI Hardware Inc. in Kent County Circuit Court. The lawsuit accuses the company of contaminating nine western Michigan properties in Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Zeeland, Middleville, Grandville, Lake Odessa and Cedar Springs before it ended operations in Michigan around 2016.

This is the latest in a series of lawsuits brought by Nessel’s office against companies linked to PFAS and other chemical contamination at hundreds of sites across Michigan.

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Various iterations of the California company have owned the former Keeler Brass Company since 2006, changing names several times through a series of mergers. Bridge Michigan was unable to immediately reach a spokesperson for FKI or its associated companies for comment Thursday.

Nessel wants the court to order the company to investigate and address the contamination, and pay damages and fines for contaminating soil and groundwater with volatile organic compounds, PFAS and metals. PFAS and the volatile organic compound TCE, or trichlorethylene, are used in metal finishing processes. PFAS keeps fogging at bay during metal plating, while TCE is a metal degreaser.

“Michigan residents deserve to be safe from environmental contamination in their communities,” Nessel said in a statement Thursday. “Companies that do business in Michigan, raise stakes, and leave their communities with contaminated air and water will pay the price.”

Nessel’s office said in a statement Thursday that TCE could leach out of the ground and float into the air at some sites, exposing residents to unhealthy air. At least one of those sites, a former foundry and metal plating facility on Godfrey Avenue Southwest in Grand Rapids, poses “imminent and substantial danger to human health and the environment,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has sent multiple Notices of Violation and other correspondence to FKI in response to the contamination since 2018, but “Defendant declined to take the measures specifically and repeatedly requested by EGLE to investigate and address the risks.”

FKI is the latest in a series of companies being sued by the state for their alleged role in Michigan’s PFAS contamination crisis. In 2020, Nessel announced a sweeping lawsuit against 17 companies, including 3M and DuPont, alleging that PFAS makers had known for decades that their products posed health risks, but “intentionally hid” those concerns from the public.

One of those cases, against plastics maker Asahi Kasei Plastics North America, has been transferred to Livingston County Circuit Court, where a jury trial is due to begin in December. Others have been sent to federal court in South Carolina in multidistrict litigation that consolidates thousands of PFAS lawsuits across the United States.

Hundreds of sites across the state are contaminated with toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, which are used in non-stick and waterproof coatings and deployed as fire and smoke barriers in the military and industry. State officials said the carcinogenic “eternal chemicals” may have been used at as many as 11,000 sites.

West Michigan PFAS activist Sandy Wynn Stelt hailed Thursday’s lawsuit as a warning to companies that have used and abused PFAS that “you can’t just block” when regulators detect contamination.

Keeler Brass was founded in Middleville, Michigan in 1893 and became the largest furniture hardware manufacturer in North America before undergoing a series of mergers beginning in the mid-2000s.

“It’s another company saying it’s been here 100 years,” said Wynn Stelt, who became a prominent PFAS activist after learning contaminated groundwater beneath her Belmont home was linked to waste from Michigan’s longtime shoe company tannery. Wolverine Worldwide. “So that’s very disappointing, because I think we could have good corporate citizens if people wanted them.”

Michigan and two Kent County townships in 2020 reached a $69.5 million settlement with Wolverine. The company agreed to connect about 1,000 homes to municipal water after their private drinking water wells were contaminated with PFAS. A host of other lawsuits are still pending against Wolverine and other parties related to Michigan’s PFAS issues.

As cases progress through the courts, environmentalists hope the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recent proposal to classify two PFAS compounds as hazardous substances will spur more progress in cleaning up contaminated sites.

The agency recently proposed listing PFOA and PFOS under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, the law that governs the federal cleanup of contaminated sites. Such a listing would trigger the federal government’s “polluter pays” policy. This policy holds companies responsible for cleanup costs if they are found responsible for the pollution.

“That would be a really big step forward,” said Anthony Spaniola, who co-chairs the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network alongside Stelt and has spent years battling with the US Air Force over PFAS contamination. at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda.

EPA officials also said they will propose an applicable federal drinking water standard for PFAS by the end of the year, with a final rule expected in 2023.

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