Wolverine seeks to dismiss federal PFAS lawsuit

PFOS, Belmont
An old Wolverine Worldwide dump in Belmont is believed to have contaminated well water with a chemical called PFOS.

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — Wolverine Worldwide plans to ask a judge to dismiss a federal lawsuit over PFAS contamination, claiming the suit was “hastily filed in order to win a class-action race to the courthouse,” according to a court document filed Monday.

Monday was the deadline for Wolverine, 3M and Waste Management to answer the 52-page federal lawsuit filed in December in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

Instead, Wolverine asked for more time and for a conference with the judge over its plans to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, eight plaintiffs said they are worried not only about their private property and wells, but also the potential impact that Wolverine tannery and manufacturing waste may have on municipal water systems in Kent County.

So far, the contamination has tainted several hundred private wells in the Belmont area and in Algoma Township with PFAS, a likely carcinogen. Many of the wells are now over the Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion for drinking water.

That contamination flowed from Wolverine’s former House Street dump in Belmont, as well as other dump sites identified in Plainfield and Algoma townships.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the toxic tap water investigation

The federal suit said one of the places the shoe manufacturer also dumped toxic chemicals was the old Butterworth Landfill within Grand Rapids’ city limits. The landfill, which now links some Kent County trails, is on the EPA’s list of Superfund Sites in Michigan; that program is aimed at redevelopment of hazardous or contaminated land.

But Wolverine, in its motion, said “none of the eight plaintiffs (half of whom do not even reside in the area) alleges that his or her property or drinking water has been contaminated, much less contaminated to an extent causing actual injury.”

The shoemaker said the eight class-action plaintiffs cannot claim negligence because “they do not allege that PFAS physically injured their person or property.”

“The alleged disposal of PFAS occurred decades before there were any EPA guidelines,” Wolverine’s attorneys wrote. “There is no allegation that Wolverine knew that PFAS was dangerous or that its disposal decades ago was improper. Nor is there any plausible allegation that Wolverine intended to cause plaintiffs emotional distress.”

The federal lawsuit claims Waste Management, which owns a separate landfill along the East Beltline in Plainfield Township, failed to make sure toxic chemicals never reached aquifers and drinking water supplies, nor did it work to remediate the area.

Waste Management also answered the federal lawsuit, asking the judge to dismiss the case, saying the plaintiffs improperly targeted the parent company, based in Delaware, and not Waste Management of Michigan.

3M, which made the Scotchgard believed to be the source of the PFAS contamination, also asked for an extension and for the suit to be dismissed, saying it is not responsible for how Wolverine Worldwide disposed of its product.

Wolverine is also facing about 60 individual lawsuits in Kent County Circuit Court over contamination, “which is where these (class-action) plaintiffs ultimately belong,” the company claimed.

The company has until mid-February to respond to the Kent County lawsuits.

RESOURCES FOR PLAINFIELD AND ALGOMA TOWNSHIP RESIDENTS:

If you are eligible for a whole-house water filtration system from Wolverine Worldwide, you can call 616.866.5627 or email HouseStreet@wwwinc.com.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Environmental Assistance Center can be reached at 1.800.662.9278.

Websites with additional information on the contamination: