Footwear manufacturer Wolverine is facing a barrage of lawsuits stemming from its use of former Scotchgard chemicals that have been linked to some forms of cancer. Technology company 3M has also been named in the complaints.
According to a Bloomberg story, a lawsuit was filed last week in state court in Kent County, Michigan, seeking property damage and medical surveillance for at least six families whose wells, the suit alleges, are contaminated by chemicals Wolverine has been dumping in the area for decades.
A second lawsuit followed on Tuesday and a third is planned in coming days concerning pollution near a plant outside of Grand Rapids, including one seeking class-action status, according to lawyer Esther Berezofsky of the Berezofsky Law Group, a firm representing the plaintiffs in the suit.
A statement by the law firm pointed fingers at Scotchgard, a 3M product that contains perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid, which have been linked to some forms of cancer, thyroid problems and other diseases.
Rockford, Michigan-based Wolverine issued a statement saying it is committed to working on cleaning up the site, but that it will aggressively defend itself against all charges.
“Wolverine is committed to working with local, state and federal regulators to develop long-term water solutions for our community,” Wolverine said. “While we intend to remain a good partner and corporate citizen and address issues facing our community, we will simultaneously protect and vigorously defend our company against ongoing litigation.”
3M, however, denied responsibility for any concerns listed in the current lawsuits.
“3M never manufactured or disposed of PFC-containing materials in Michigan,” the company said in a statement. “Under Michigan law, we believe 3M has no liability for any damages allegedly caused by Wolverine’s manufacturing and waste disposal practices. We believe this lawsuit lacks merit.”
But in February, the Maplewood, Minnesota-based company did agree to pay $850 million to the state of Minnesota to settle a lawsuit filed in 2010 over disposal of the same chemicals, which were once used by 3M to make Scotchgard fabric protector and by DuPont to make Teflon. A study done on the local population for the suit linked the chemicals to diseases like testicular and kidney cancer and ulcerative colitis. The companies no longer use the chemicals.
DuPont also agreed to pay out $671 million to settle lawsuits.
Lawsuits were also filed against Wolverine and 3M in December 2017 in Michigan citing similar complaints, this time regarding a leather-treatment product the companies jointly developed using the chemicals.
Wolverine was also sued in January by Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality for cleanup costs of the chemicals near its demolished plant near Grand Rapids. At the same time the suit was filed, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also ordered the footwear maker to conduct more tests for a potential cleanup effort at its former tannery at the House Street landfill in Rockford, during which the company is required to test for harmful substances like PFAS, arsenic, chromium, mercury and ammonia.
Last October, Wolverine closed its Rockford, Michigan, distribution center and moved all 50 jobs there to California. There was speculation that the decision to move had something to do with Wolverine’s troubles with water contamination issues in the area surrounding their dump sites. But a spokesperson for the company was quick to deny those allegations at the time.
3M has also had its share of international troubles lately. Last month, the company was named in a prison-labor report by a former Chinese-prison inmate, who said while he was still incarcerated, he witnessed packaged parts used by 3M being made by prison laborers. At press time, no concrete evidence was found to corroborate the allegations, but 3M did launch an investigation.