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AG Nessel Sues Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority for PFAS Contamination of Drinking Water

Today, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a lawsuit in the Kent County 17th Judicial Circuit Court against the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority following repeated warnings and demands for action from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) related to the Airport’s PFAS contamination. Attorney General Nessel is suing the Airport Authority for, among other issues, PFAS releases into the below-ground water supply and seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, past and future remediation and monitoring costs, and damages for the loss and destruction of natural resources.

The Attorney General contends in her lawsuit the Airport Authority is liable for the Airport’s previous and known releases of PFAS-containing firefighting material known as aqueous film-forming foams, or AFFFs, pursuant to Part 201 (Environmental Remediation) of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), as well as for violations of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit. These PFAS releases have impacted nearby properties and the ‘forever chemicals’ have been discovered in residential drinking water wells in neighboring Cascade Charter Township, as well as in streams and other groundwater downgradient of the Airport. The full breadth of the PFAS emanation from the Airport remains unknown.

“The Airport Authority has had ample opportunity, over several years now, to step up and do the right thing,” Nessel said. “But as they’ve shown a refusal to accept responsibility for their actions or meaningfully attempt to clean up the messes they have made, we must compel them to act responsibly. Under Michigan law, if you caused the contamination, you must remediate it. We will continue to pursue our claims against the Authority until a satisfactory result is reached that protects the public and the environment.”

EGLE has sent numerous compliance communications to the Airport Authority demanding it provide information on its previous uses of AFFFs and the known releases of AFFFs at the Airport. EGLE has also demanded that the Airport Authority address the known PFAS contamination at, and emanating from, the Airport and comply with the requirements of Parts 201 and 31 of the NREPA.  

In September 2020, EGLE sent the Airport Authority a Violation Notice demanding compliance with Part 201 of the NREPA by, among other things, creating and implementing a plan to investigate the nature and extent of PFAS contamination from the Airport’s historical use of AFFFs and provide notices of migration of hazardous substances to the residents of neighboring Cascade Charter Township. The Airport Authority did not comply with the notice and denied any liability.

In March 2021, EGLE sent the Airport Authority a final Enforcement Notice again demanding that the Airport comply with the requirements of Part 201. The Authority and the Department of Attorney General spent many months attempting to negotiate an agreement protective of the public health, safety, and welfare of are Michigan residents and the environment. The Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority refuses to take appropriate and necessary action and continues to deny responsibility.

"Every resident across the state deserves clean air, safe water, and a healthy community, including being protected against toxic contaminants like PFAS,” said Phil Roos, Director of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. “We believe the Gerald Ford International Airport Authority used PFAS-containing foam for decades. These PFAS compounds have been detected in excess of the state’s standards both on and off the airport property and where they are negatively impacting the nearby drinking water wells and natural resources. Our hope is that after two years of EGLE working towards a voluntary settlement to resolve this matter this civil action will motivate the airport to address the PFAS contamination. EGLE remains committed to protecting residential drinking water and our environment.”

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