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GM Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over Water Contamination In Michigan

A class action lawsuit has been filed against General Motors on behalf of Michigan residents, alleging that one of the company’s facilities has been contaminating the groundwater supplies around Milford, Michigan for nearly a century. 

Local residents Terry Moore, Ellen Moore, David O’Nions, Diane O’Nions, Joellen Pisarczyk, and Marvin Pisarczyk filed the complaint (PDF) in Livingston County Circuit Court on November 30, seeking class action status for others similarly affected.

According to allegations raised in the water contamination lawsuit, GM has known for years that activities at its Milford Proving Grounds (MPG) was contaminating groundwater, but failed to warn residents or take action to address the problem.

The proving grounds were first opened in 1925 by General Motors Corporation, GM’s predecessor company, and covers more than 100 miles of roadway, with more than 115 buildings. The lawsuit indicates that those structures contain a number of salt storage buildings, a wastewater treatment plant, landfills and hundreds of storage tanks that contained a number of petroleum products, sodium chloride and other hazardous materials from fuel, oil, antifreeze, transmission fluid, road deicers and other substances.

“Defendant and GMC released hundreds of thousands of tons of salt at the MPG over the last several decades, leading to extremely high concentrations of sodium and chloride in surface and groundwater at the MPG,” the lawsuit states. “The Releases migrated from the MPG into groundwater beneath Plaintiffs’ property, causing extremely high concentrations of sodium and chloride in water used by Plaintiffs.”

The lawsuit claims that GM knew about the contamination at least as early as 1985, following an independent water supply study commissioned by the company. The study found a number of sites where runoff from the proving ground was making its way into a number of nearby local lakes and then into the groundwater.

The study went as far as to identify the possible sources of the contamination; including road salt used to control ice on the roads, calcium chloride used for dust control, and water softeners used in wastewater generated at the facilities. It also noted that some of the salt could come from geologic deposits. However, the study concluded that road salt appeared to be the major source of chloride.

The lawsuit notes that while GM failed to alert regulatory authorities or local residents of the contamination, it discontinued using its own wells following the report.

The GM water contamination was not discovered by the public until the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) conducted its own investigation in 1997, after a developer found high levels of chlorides in the groundwater while drilling wells for a number of homes being built nearby.

The lawsuit claims that GM hired a firm to refute the MDEQ’s findings, despite being alerted of similar findings in its own study years earlier. However, MDEQ designated the facility as contaminated in September 2000. GM sued the state agency in an effort to have sodium and chloride declared not hazardous substances under state law. In a settlement agreement, GM withdrew the lawsuit and agreed to work to lower contamination levels in exchange for MDEQ rescinding its contaminated site declaration.

However, by 2007, the automaker had failed to lower levels of sodium and chloride in the groundwater at the site by any statistically significant amount. The lawsuit claims that GM only stopped denying that it was the source of the contamination in October 2014 after the original GMC filed bankruptcy and was reorganized as GM.

The class action lawsuit presents claims of violation of environmental laws, fraud, negligence, trespass, private nuisance, and public nuisance. It seeks compensation for property damages, and calls for the company to pay for cleanup costs for the site, reimbursement for activities taken by plaintiffs to address the water contamination, and seeks a permanent injunction to prevent GM from continuing to further contaminate the local water supply.

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