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AG's office files lawsuit over PFAS contamination at sites in West Michigan

Dana Nessel in Grand Rapids on September 29, 2022
Dustin Dwyer
/
Michigan Radio
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announces a lawsuit against FKI Hardware over PFAS contamination in Grand Rapids on September 29, 2022.

The Michigan Attorney General’s office has filed a lawsuit to try to force a company to clean up contamination from harmful PFAS chemicals in West Michigan. The lawsuit is over pollution at nine sites that were formerly owned by the Keeler Brass Company.

The AG’s office filed the suit against FKI Hardware Inc, a California-based company with a mailing address listed in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The lawsuit says FKI Hardware acquired a company that had acquired Keeler, which makes FKI responsible for the pollution.

“Michigan residents expect that out-of-state companies operating in Michigan will respect our laws and our communities,” attorney general Dana Nessel said at a press conference in Grand Rapids Thursday announcing the lawsuit. “And it’s unacceptable for companies like FKI Hardware to pollute Michigan’s environment, and to put the health and safety of Michigan families at risk and then leave, without addressing the contamination they’ve left behind.”

keeler lawsuit map.jpg
Michigan Attorney General's Office court filing
A map of former Keeler Brass Company sites included in the lawsuit against FKI Hardware, filed by the Michigan Attorney General's office.

The contaminated sites named in the lawsuit include:

  • 945 and 955 Godfrey Avenue SW, Grand Rapids
  • 2929 32nd Street SE, Kentwood
  • 835 Hall Street SW, Grand Rapids
  • 236 Stevens Street SW, Grand Rapids
  • 311 N. Centennial Street, Zeeland
  • 39 State Street, Middleville
  • 4300 Ferry Street SW, Grandville
  • 609 Tupper Lake Street, Lake Odessa; and
  • 157 W. Beech Street NE, Cedar Springs

The contamination at the former Keeler sites includes the harmful class of polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, along with other harmful chemicals, including trichloroethylene, or TCE. PFAS has been linked to a number of health problems including certain types of cancer and pregnancy complications. The CDC says TCE is a “known carcinogen” that can cause headaches, dizziness or even death.
The lawsuit alleges the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, or EGLE, first became aware of TCE pollution at Keeler’s Godfrey Avenue site in Grand Rapids in 2007, at levels “hundreds of times above” a recommended threshold set by Michigan’s Toxics Steering Group.

“So, for years EGLE has attempted to work with FKI hardware to obtain compliance with Michigan’s environmental laws at these sites,” Nessel said. “And despite these efforts, FKI Hardware has not fully addressed the risks associated with its contamination.” A phone call to a local West Michigan company affiliated with FKI Hardware was not returned Thursday afternoon. Nessel said the lawsuit asks a judge to force FKI Hardware to take responsibility for the pollution at the former Keeler sites.

"And we ask the court first require FKI Hardware to investigate the environmental contamination it left behind, and next to take all necessary steps to protect human health and the environment,” Nessel said.

Sandy Wynn-Stelt, co-founder of the Michigan PFAS Action Network, said the lawsuit is needed to make sure companies, not taxpayers, pay the costs to clean up contamination in Michigan.

“That is a non-partisan issue,” Wynn-Stelt said. “We all believe if you make a mess, you have to clean it up. And so I’m grateful that we’re taking the stand to do that.”

This is at least the third lawsuit filed by the attorney general’s office over PFAS contamination. One lawsuit, against the shoemaker Wolverine Worldwide, was settled in 2020, with the company agreeing to pay nearly $70 million to extend municipal water lines to residents in northern Kent County whose wells were contaminated by PFAS pollution. Despite agreeing to the settlement, Wolverine did not admit responsibility for causing the pollution. Another lawsuit was filed in 2020 against 17 companies that manufactured PFAS chemicals.

A previous version of this story said that residents' wells in northern Kent County had been contaminated by pollution from Wolverine's facilities. This story has been updated to reflect that Wolverine has not admitted responsibility for that contamination.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’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 Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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