Wolverine asks judge to dismiss PFAS lawsuits

Rockford-based shoe manufacturer named in 89 lawsuits in Kent County Circuit Court

Hunter Naffziger
An undated courtesy photo of Ashlee Naffziger with her son, Hunter.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Faced with lawsuits claiming its PFAS contamination caused three deaths, as well as miscarriages, cancers and other illnesses, Wolverine Worldwide on Monday said it shouldn’t be responsible for any of it.

The Rockford-based shoe manufacturer responded to 52 of the 89 lawsuits filed against it in Kent County Circuit Court. It asked a judge to dismiss them all.

That includes the case of Hunter Naffziger, who was 6 weeks old in May 2015 when he died from a heart defect. His parents claim Hunter didn’t survive surgeries because preeclampsia caused by drinking PFAS-laced water in Algoma Township forced his mom to give birth too soon by cesarean section.

In its responses, Wolverine denied any wrongdoing, and denied as untrue that “animal and human studies have shown that PFAS can harm human health.”

Wolverine used 3M’s Scotchgard containing PFAS for several decades to treat shoes until 3M stopped using the chemical in 2002. By 2005, the EPA was calling PFAS a possible carcinogen. A study of 69,000 people in West Virginia found probable links to six diseases, including kidney and testicular cancers.

The 89 cases filed so far in Kent County Circuit Court have accused Wolverine of causing three deaths, at least nine miscarriages and leading to cancer and other illnesses in more than 60 people in Algoma and Plainfield townships.

PFAS contamination, blamed on Wolverine waste dumped decades ago, has been found in several hundred wells in those townships. At some properties, the levels are far above the state’s limit for drinking water.

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

In its response to the lawsuits, Wolverine denied dumping tannery sludge illegally for decades, including at its House Street landfill in Belmont.

“At all relevant times Wolverine disposed of waste containing PFAS, it reasonably believed the waste to be safe,” it wrote, adding the company followed “standard practice” at the time.

It denied that it should have taken action after 3M sent Wolverine a letter in 1999 warning of the potential harm of PFAS — a letter first revealed by Target 8.

Wolverine denied knowingly putting nearby residents at risk and said it had no obligation to warn neighbors.

The company asked the judge to dismiss the cases based, in part, on the 3-year statute of limitations, saying residents “should have known of any alleged PFAS contamination more than three years before” they filed the lawsuits.

Wolverine also says there is “no imminent danger to anyone’s health” because it has provided either whole-house filters or bottled water to residents.

It asked the judge to dismiss the cases, in part, because they are similar to a federal class-action suit it already is facing. The company has already asked a federal judge to dismiss that suit.

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: