Attorneys, citizens host forum on groundwater contamination

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LEGAL NEWS PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

To paraphrase the old adage, three things are certain: death, taxes, and lawsuits once it is revealed that a site has widespread contamination.

Last Saturday, Sommers Schwartz of Southfield served as the lead host for a meeting on the pollution found in the groundwater of Belmont, Rockford, Plainfield Township, and nearby, which is thought to result from Wolverine World Wide using Scotchgard™ water/stain repellent on its shoes.

Approximately the first hour of the forum concerned the science involved — a subject which has already been covered in previous public sessions. Nonetheless, community activist Travis Brown and others gave a simple yet comprehensive overview helpful to both newcomers to the subject and already well-informed residents.

The contaminant of concern is perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS, which is part of the larger group of perfluorinated alkylated substances, or PFAS. PFOS is extremely persistent in the environment (in 2009, it was added to a global list of Persistent Organic Pollutants). A 2002 study by the United-Nations-related Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found it “persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic to mammalian species.”

Recently, elevated blood levels of PFOS were found to be associated with increased risk of chronic kidney disease, and investigation into its toxicity and carcinogenic properties continues. In 2002 the Scotchgard™ manufacturer, 3M, discontinued its use.

One response of residents attending was to call for health officials to track the incidence of cancer and other serious diseases in the area. One commenter said that the types of cancer currently being explored was too limited.

The second hour of the meeting explored the possibility of concerned attendees joining a pending class action suite spearheaded by the experienced group of attorneys represented.

That group included Sommers Schwartz, a Southfield firm which specializes in contingency-based litigation, whose attorneys Jason Thompson and Parker Stinar served on the panel; Pitt McGehee Palmer and Rivers, represented by Bob Palmer and Megan  Bonanni; Wexler Wallace, a Chicago-based firm whose Bryan Pasciak grew up in the Rockford area; and the Berezofsky Law Firm.

Esther Berezofsky has been involved in the Flint water crisis, and was recently appointed to the executive committee on the Flint litigation. She was also involved with the Toms River, N.J., cancer cluster litigation, the subject of a Pulitzer-Prize-winning book.

The attorneys described the process of class action lawsuits, and provided forms for those interested.

They noted that other individual lawsuits have already been initiated.  Specifically, Aaron Phelps of Varnum has filed on behalf of four defendants, each suing Wolverine. The main source of pollution has so far been determined to be a 1960s-era landfill on House Street, and the plaintiffs are suing to have it cleaned up, as well as for monetary damages.

Since then, a surprise class action suit has been filed by The Miller Law Firm, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, and Weitz & Luxenberg. The action “seeks immediate blood testing, monitoring, and damages for residents who have been harmed by the pollution,” says The Miller Law Firm release.

The famous pollution activist Erin Brockovich is involved in that suit, and the groups will hold a meeting the week of Dec. 11 (details forthcoming) which Brockovich will attend.

Wolverine World Wide already agreed to provide whole-house water filtration systems for all homes in the original study area and buffer zone, starting at the beginning of November. Later, additional nearby homes were added to receive the systems.

“We continue to be proactive and transparent throughout this process – our primary goal is for residents to have confidence in their water,” Chris Hufnagel, Senior Vice President of Strategy, stated in a press release.
As Travis Brown reported at the Saturday forum, the township has had elevated contaminant levels since 1983 in its water supply, which is located right near the landfill. The Environmental Working Group website, ewg.org, lists the township as being in violation of federal health-based drinking water standards for the January-March 2017 quarter, with five recent violations. Plainfield Township water also goes to Alpine, Algoma and other townships, and parts of Walker.

Brown, who has signed on to representation by the group at Saturday’s forum, said,  “In order to fix this, it’s going to require the community – we don’t have time to wait on the government. We’re going to have to have everybody pull together, everybody. No mother should have to watch her children drink contaminated water while she’s waiting for the government to respond to a lawsuit and act.”

Comprehensive information is available on Facebook at “Demand Action From Plainfield Township Regarding Unsafe Drinking Water.”
 

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