Litigation update: WWW Ends PFAS Settlement Discussions, Refusing to Pay for Municipal Water Extensions

At a media conference this morning, Plainfield Superintendent Cameron VanWyngarden and Algoma Supervisor Kevin Green, along with their attorney, announced that Wolverine World Wide has ended settlement discussions with the townships – leaving virtually no chance to extend municipal drinking water in the coming year.

After nine months of negotiations, municipal attorney Douglas Van Essen advised both township boards that WWW will not voluntarily pay to extend Plainfield’s municipal water to areas contaminated with PFAS from decades of its waste disposal practices – unless the chemical’s manufacturer, 3M, contributes to the cost. Wolverine’s recent announcement again starts the clock on the lawsuit, meaning WWW will have until Dec. 21 to answer the original complaint.

This abrupt “about-face” in WWW’s position likely means Plainfield Township will not be able to begin construction in the spring on four loop extensions designed to bring municipal water to more than 300 homeowners in the House Street and Wellington Ridge areas of contamination. Instead, the townships and the state of Michigan will resume active litigation against Wolverine World Wide in federal court – a process that was stayed in March as all parties paused to negotiate a consent agreement.

 While WWW had maintained it hoped to hold 3M responsible for a portion of the costs, until last week, Wolverine had not been conditioning its participation in a consent decree compelling it to provide the reimbursement for public costs incurred in extending municipal water lines and connecting homes affected by the PFAS contamination to those lines. The Townships will now explore all avenues open to them to hold Wolverine accountable for its actions.

“Wolverine’s position change is extremely unfortunate and disappointing,” said Van Essen, attorney for the two townships in the federal court proceeding initiated in January by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. “Wolverine is not saying it has changed its mind that municipal water is the permanent solution or that it is responsible for these costs. Instead, the company is delaying the inevitable with the sole purpose of trying to put pressure on 3M, which manufactured the chemicals, to contribute to the costs.”

The lawsuit began in January when the MDEQ sued WWW in federal court to recover costs associated with decades of PFAS contamination after Wolverine dumped tannery sludge throughout Northern Kent County. Plainfield and Algoma townships joined the lawsuit in March, with Van Essen noting that all experts have agreed that the “only viable long-term remedy” to providing clean, reliable, safe drinking water to residents was the extension of municipal water to affected areas.

WWW responded to the lawsuit by stating that it wanted to negotiate a consent judgment and both governmental entities accepted that representation in good faith and have been negotiating towards that end during the ensuing eight months.

In the spring of this year, Plainfield Township secured a $750,000 grant from the state to purchase, install and monitor granular activated carbon, or GAC, filters in its municipal water system to remove PFAS. Installation was completed this fall, and multiple tests have shown the water to be nondetect for PFOS and PFOA.

“We have wasted the better part of a year listening to Wolverine and waiting for the company to do the right thing,” said Plainfield Superintendent Cameron Van Wyngarden. “We remain committed to holding Wolverine accountable under the law for its responsibility of providing a comprehensive, long-term solution for providing clean, safe drinking water to residents – and cleaning up the land it has contaminated in a manner that does not adversely affect property values or public health.

“If Wolverine wants to sue 3M for contribution that is the company’s choice. But to delay fulfillment of its responsibilities to the community until 3M is willing to pay voluntarily or through court order is irresponsible and inconsistent with Wolverine’s promises to the community up until this point.”

The townships expect a conference with the federal court during the first quarter of 2019. The Township will continue to keep residents updated through Facebook, the website and weekly newsletters. If you have any questions or concerns, please send an email to comments@plainfieldmi.org.