KENT COUNTY, Mich. -- The fight against Wolverine World Wide, and dangerous chemicals it dumped for decades in Kent County, continues with the first recent class action lawsuit among nearly a dozen others, and advocacy from environmental activist giant Erin Brockovich.
Hundreds if not thousands of residents in the Belmont-Rockford area are affected, whether it's serious health concerns or significant property value loss due to high levels of PFAs, the chemicals linked to Wolverine's dumping since the 1960s that are now contaminating well and some municipal water.
"It’s one of those mornings when I wake up and I have 50 emails from the same location. I’m like, 'Oh what just happened over there?'" said Erin Brockovich to FOX 17 Tuesday.
Brockovich is advocating for affected Kent County families, working alongside the legal team that filed a class action lawsuit Dec. 1. The 55-page complaint is against Wolverine World Wide Inc., Waste Management of Michigan Inc. and 3M, or the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, which first manufactured Scotchgard, the chemical Wolverine used and then dumped.
"This chemical is a problem throughout this country," said Brockovich.
"The states often times have oversight, you have a Department of Environmental Quality, where have they been?"
Read the full class action lawsuit here.
Several law firms and six families sued Wolverine in this lawsuit, on behalf of many others, seeking immediate blood testing by the state of all affected, monitoring and damages for residents harmed by this contamination. Meanwhile, other firms including Varnum plan to file more than 50 similar lawsuits against Wolverine World Wide, with 11 already making their way through court.
"This has now consumed [the plaintiffs'] entire [lives]," said Aaaron Phelps, Varnum Law Firm partner, "especially the people that have health issues. But even if your health is good or you don’t believe you’ve had a high exposure, maybe you’ve only lived there for a short period of time, the property value is substantial."
Varnum is also focusing on a May 1966 Kent County Circuit Court order, which allowed Wolverine to dump its chemical sludge in a designated area as long as "It shall see that water supplies and/or lakes or other waters not owned by the company will not be contaminated by any use made of said dump." This ruling followed Plainfield Township passing an ordinance at the time to stop Wolverine's continued dumping, to which Wolverine sued the township.
Read the 1966 court order here.
"Wolverine knew what was in its waste, they knew where they were dumping it," said Phelps. "They were visited by 3M in 1999 and told about the risks associated with it."
"We certainly believe that at that point and time [Wolverine] should have notified neighbors and undertaken additional testing."
Brockovich continues to advocate for the state or MDEQ test the blood of all residents affected by contamination, especially children, and pay for damages.
"This is a chemical that can stay in your body for decades," said Brockovich.
"I worry about [the residents], and they need to know facts and information because with that knowledge they can become empowered and they will better protect their health and welfare."
Brockovich and the law firms that filed the class action lawsuit will be at an informational meeting in Kent County regarding next steps, as well as the health and science behind PFAs, on Monday, Dec. 11. The time and location is not yet announced but should be posted soon on either of these firms' websites: the Miller Law Firm, Robbins Geller, Rudman and Dowd LLP, and Weitz and Luxenberg.