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Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority sued for PFAS contamination of drinking water

Attorney General Dana Nessel is suing the Airport Authority following repeated warnings and demands over PFAS contamination.

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a lawsuit in the Kent County 17th Judicial Circuit Court against the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority Monday. 

The lawsuit comes following repeated warnings and demands for action from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) related to PFAS contamination allegedly caused by the airport.

Nessel said in a release that the Airport Authority is being sued for, "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," among other things. 

The Airport Authority said they're disappointed in the legal action, "despite the Airport’s unwavering multi-year commitment to environmental stewardship on behalf of the community."

"It’s unfortunate discussions with the AG’s office have come to an impasse despite years of environmental study and progress. The Airport will continue to follow its `True North’ in advancing environmental stewardship on behalf of the West Michigan community and the aviation industry, while providing a world-class travel experience," Engineering & Planning Director for the Airport Authority Casey Ries said. 

According to the lawsuit, the Airport Authority is responsible for violating the Environmental Remediation section (Part 201) of the National Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA) due to its previous and known releases of the PFAS-containing firefighting material known as aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs). The lawsuit also alleges the Airport Authority is also liable for the violations of it National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit. 

These so-called "forever chemicals" have been discovered in residential drinking water wells in Cascade Charter Township along with being found in streams and other groundwater near the airport. 

While the AG says that the releases of PFAS have impacted nearby properties, it's unknown how far the chemicals may have emanated from the Airport. 

“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."

EGLE has sent the Airport Authority many compliance communications asking it to provide information on its previous uses of AFFFs and any known releases of them at the airport. In addition to this, EGLE demanded that the Airport Authority would address its known PFAS contamination. 

One of these notices came in September of 2020 when EGLE sent a violation notice to the Airport Authority demanding compliance with Part 201 of the NREPA. EGLE asked the Airport to make a plan for investigating the nature and extent of the PFAS contamination due to the airport's use of AFFFs. In addition to this, EGLE also demanded that the airport provide notices of any hazardous substances that make their way into the Cascade Charter Township community.

The Airport Authority did not comply with this notice and denied liability. 

The next round of action came in March 2021 when EGLE sent the Airport Authority a final enforcement notice demanding once more that the airport comply with the requirements of the NREPA included in Part 201. 

The Airport Authority refused to take action after the final notice 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. 

In a release, Roos said EGLE believes the Airport Authority has used PFAS-containing foam for decades, as the PFAS compounds have been detected "in excess" of the state's standards on and off airport property where they're negatively affecting drinking water wells and natural resources. 

He said the hope is that following two years of EGLE working towards a voluntary settlement to resolve the matter, this civil action will motivate the Airport Authority to address the PFAS contamination. 

You can read the airport's full response here: 

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