Attorney General Dana Nessel has filed a lawsuit against a paper manufacturing company that previously operated a plant in Port Huron, alleging the company transported waste contaminated with harmful PFAS and PFOS chemicals to a nearby landfill for more than 20 years while claiming the waste was non- Hazardous.
The lawsuit against South Carolina-based paper manufacturer Domtar Industries, filed Friday in the 31st Circuit Court, states the company had informed the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (the predecessor to the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy) in 1996 its paper sludge was “inert,” or free of hazardous substances.
From 1998 to 2020, the state estimates Domtar moved around 145,000 cubic yards of waste from a paper mill in Port Huron to the Techni-Comp landfill site, also in Port Huron. However, the suing alleges Domtar knew the waste it transported was contaminated, and contaminants later sawped into nearby land, surface waters and groundwater supplies.
“On information and belief, Domtar knew at the time that it self-declared its paper sludge as inert that the paper sludge contained hazardous and toxic PFAS chemicals, and that PFAS were toxic contaminants that posed a direct threat to the health and safety of the environment and public health, but failed to disclose this to the DEQ,” the complaint states.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are contaminants that can cause health concerns such as thyroid disease, kidney and testicular cancers as well as higher levels of cholesterol. The contaminants can be found in stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products and fire-fighting foams, per the Environmental Protection Agency. They are hard to break down, and are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals.” In 2018, EGLE estimated PFAS could be found at more than 11,000 sites in Michigan.
The state seeks a court order forcing Domtar to investigate and clean up contamination caused by the waste. Officials also want the court to order Domtar to pay costs and damages incurred from state efforts to identify, monitor and clean up contaminated sites.
“Michigan residents should not be left holding the bag for the impacts of corporate PFAS contamination, nor for the costs of cleaning it up,” Nessel said in a statement. “My efforts to hold companies accountable for contaminating our communities will continue where corporations are not taking adequate remediation efforts or responsibility for their actions.”
A Domtar spokesperson said the company does not comment on pending litigation. Domtar closed its plant in Port Huron in 2020.
From 2019:PFAS contamination is Michigan’s biggest environmental crisis in 40 years
Water and compost samples collected from the Techni-Comp landfill by the state in 2019 found the number of contaminant parts per trillion exceed the state’s water quality standards. Groundwater samples collected from the site in 2021 also exceeded standards.
Further testing of residential wells which provide drinking water has not found contaminants exceeding standards, although the state says it still needs to test other samples to fully understand the scope of the contamination.
“The extent of Domtar’s contamination has not been fully identified, and the State reasonably anticipates further testing will reveal additional groundwater, surface water, and drinking water contamination due to Domtar’s historical operations,” the suing states.
EGLE notified Domtar in 2020 that it was voiding the “inert” declaration of the company’s waste. That year, Domtar began sending paper mill sludge to a landfill in Smith’s Creek, also located in St. Clair County, instead of the Techni-Comp landfill.
Domtar currently employs around 6,000 employees, with 20 combined paper mills, converting sites and packaging mills across the US and Canada, according to its website.
Become a subscriber today.