After Schuette passed, Nessel takes aim at 3M’s past PFAS use

By: - May 10, 2019 4:12 pm

Dana Nessel, March 22, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel plans to sue a large chemical corporation over its alleged role in PFAS contamination around the state, something her predecessor, Bill Schuette, declined to do.

Speaking with reporters on Thursday and in a statement sent out later in the day, Nessel said her office was finalizing details for requests for proposals (RFP) to seek legal counsel for a lawsuit against Minnesota-based chemical giant 3M.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, April 20, 2016 in Flint | Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

The company has made products in the past that contain the group of chemicals known as PFAS — or sometimes called “forever chemicals” — that have contaminated groundwater around the state and can lead to health problems.

“We are going to be pursuing action against 3M and we’re sort of coordinating these requests for proposals to work with firms that have a lot of expertise that has filed similar cases in other states,” Nessel told reporters following a criminal justice reform bill signing she attended.

“We intend to be as aggressive as possible,” Nessel said of her office’s plans to have companies help foot the bill for clean up. “Yes, you can absolutely expect to see something in regards to litigation against 3M and some of the other chemical manufacturers introduced here.”

Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder last year asked Schuetteto pursue a lawsuit against the company. However, the Republican AG never did before leaving office in December 2018.

Environmental groups expressed support for Nessel’s planned lawsuit against the company.

“Every day, more troubling information comes out about PFAS contamination and what corporations profiting from them knew. We hope Attorney General Nessel follows through on legal action to hold manufacturers accountable for unleashing these ‘forever chemicals’ on our environment,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the environmental advocacy group Food and Water Watch said in a statement.

A 3M spokesperson declined to comment. But in a February statement, the company said it was supportive of efforts by federal environmental regulators to establish a PFAS Action Plan. The company has also reached settlements with communities affected by PFAS contamination.

There’s new evidence, however, that the company was aware for years of the damage done by PFAS chemicals. The Detroit Free Press first reported on Thursday that one of 3M’s environmental specialists resigned in protest in 1999 over concerns related to the company’s use of the chemicals and referred to PFAS as “the most insidious pollutant since PCB.” The Free Press’ reporting was based on public records requests with the Minnesota Attorney General’s office.

Susan J. Demas photo

“It’s unconscionable that 3M ignored its own research on the toxic effects of PFAS, instead prioritizing profits over what’s right,” Hauter said. “Like Exxon and other oil companies’ climate cover-up, 3M’s actions have put generations at risk, and they must be held accountable.”

PFAS as emerged as one of the most significant environmental problems facing Michigan. With 192 sites known to be contaminated with PFAS, Michigan currently has the most sites in the country at present known to be contaminated by the chemicals.

The costs to fully remediate are unknown, but will likely be costly. Nessel said she expects that lawsuits against companies like 3M can help to offset some of that.

“Our state will spend hundreds of millions of dollars addressing these problems – costs that should not be borne by the people who live, work and play here,” Nessel said in a statement. “Many of those same people were poisoned here and we will make those responsible pay for their greed.”

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.