Toxic sludges released contaminants into the air, suit says.
The Attorney General’s Office, led by Attorney General Dana Nessel, has filed a lawsuit against Domtar Industries, a former Port Huron, Michigan, paper manufacturer. The lawsuit specifically targets per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) released from Domtar’s manufacturing processes, as well as the company’s paper sludges.
Domtar Industries is an international paper manufacturer with a mill at in Port Huron that has been in operation in various forms for over a century. Paper Excellence purchased the company in November 2021 and has since operated it as a subsidiary. The company runs mills in several states and in Canada.
The toxic sludges in question were delivered to Techni-Comp, a composting facility in Kimball Township, St. Clair County, where PFAS levels in groundwater and surface water exceeded state standards. The paper sludges had high levels of PFAS but were labeled “inert.”
PFAS, or polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a type of synthetic lubricant that is efficient and convenient for use in paper-making processes. These substances are applied to paper as a coating during the manufacturing process to improve the desired characteristics of the paper. They reduce friction, increase strength and performance, and are resistant to water and grease. Furthermore, PFAS are used to manipulate the properties of paper, such as recyclability and biodegradability, making them an important part of the papermaking process.
However, there are some disadvantages to using PFAS. Many studies in recent years have found that PFAS are a major environmental pollutant that can harm both natural and human ecosystems. Because of their unique chemical structure, PFAS remain persistent in the environment and are resistant to both abiotic and biotic degradation. They are also known carcinogens that have been shown to disrupt the endocrine system, and been linked to an increase in mortality. For these reasons, the use of PFAS has decreased over time, but they are still present in papermaking processes.
In her statement, Attorney General Nessel emphasized the importance of companies like Domtar being held accountable for the contamination of communities. “Michigan residents should not be left holding the bag for the consequences of corporate PFAS contamination, or for the costs of cleaning it up,” she said. “My efforts to hold corporations accountable for polluting our communities will continue in areas where corporations are not making adequate remediation efforts or taking responsibility for their actions.”
As a result, the lawsuit filed by the Department of Attorney General seeks cost and damages from Domtar in order to address its PFAS releases into the environment. The suit also requests that the Court rule on Domtar’s liability and compel the company to investigate and remediate the contamination caused by their operations.
The current lawsuit against Domtar comes on the heels of a series of PFAS-specific lawsuits against various other manufacturers. These moves demonstrate Attorney General Nessel’s commitment to holding companies accountable for contaminating Michigan communities. Unrelated lawsuits were also recently filed against manufacturers of PFAS-containing firefighting foam. These actions indicate a growing crackdown on commercial PFAS pollution in the United States.