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Nessel sues company for PFAS, other pollution in west Michigan

Carol Thompson
The Detroit News

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Thursday she had filed a civil lawsuit against a metal finishing and plating companyshe says contaminated nine sites in and around Grand Rapids with PFAS and other hazardous chemicals.

Nessel sued FKI Hardware Inc., formerly known as the Keeler Brass Company, in Kent County Circuit Court to "seek compliance and damages" and get the company to address toxic releases it left behind at its former sites. FKI is a California corporation with headquarters in Oklahoma. It operated in Michigan through 2016, Nessel said in the legal filings.

Attorney General Dana Nessel

The attorney general hopes to force the company to investigate soil and groundwater contamination left over from its production between 1893 and 2016 and determine whether harmful vapors are escaping into buildings above the contamination and threatening people's health.

"Michigan residents deserve to be safe from environmental contamination in their communities," Nessel said. "Companies that do business in Michigan, pull up stakes and leave their communities with contaminated air and water will pay the price. This lawsuit is another demonstration of my department's commitment to do what is necessary to hold companies that polluted our environment accountable."

FKI Hardware could not immediately be reached for comment.

Contamination at one site, on Godfrey Avenue Southwest in Grand Rapids, poses "an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment," Nessel's office said.

The company has refused to work with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, the attorney general said in the complaint.

"As of the date of filing this Complaint, Defendant has refused to take the actions specifically and repeatedly requested by EGLE to investigate and address the risks posed by TCE released by Defendant to people entering and occupying buildings on the Godfrey Property, despite the potential for acute exposures to occupants in the overlying buildings," the complaint states. "Defendant has also failed to pay EGLE’s past costs for response activities incurred as a result of Defendant’s refusal to undertake appropriate investigation at the Godfrey Property."

Chemicals left behind on the contaminated properties include trichloroethylene, known as TCE, a volatile organic compound that can cause kidney, nervous system and liver function issues, fetal issues and cancer; PFAS, the synthetic "forever chemicals" that are used in a wide variety of consumer goods but recently came under increased safety scrutiny by the federal government and are associated with issues including pregnancy complications, liver damage, high cholesterol and more; and metals.

Both PFAS and TCE were widely used in metal finishing.

The list of sites contaminated by FKI Hardware include:

  • 945 and 955 Godfrey Avenue SW, Grand Rapids
  • 2929 32nd Street SE, Kentwood
  • 835 Hall Street SW, Grand Rapids
  • 236 Stevens Street SW, Grand Rapids
  • 311 N. Centennial Street, Zeeland 
  • 39 State Street, Middleville
  • 4300 Ferry Street SW, Grandville
  • 609 Tupper Lake Street, Lake Odessa
  • 157 W. Beech Street NE, Cedar Springs