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Environmentalists back bills expanding ability to sue over PFAS contamination

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Environmentalists are backing bills that would expand the ability to sue over contamination from so-called forever chemicals known as PFAS.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are man-made chemicals found in everything from firefighting foam to some nonstick pans. The chemicals can build up over time and some studies have linked them to cancer and thyroid problems.

A bill from state Sen. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, would push back the statute of limitations for suing over exposure to certain hazardous substances like PFAS. No Republicans have signed on as sponsors, but Brinks says the proposal is necessary to hold polluters accountable.

"It's really unfortunate that they aren't interested in making these kinds of adjustments, to the statute of limitations that would really serve their people well and it would help relieve taxpayer expense," Brinks said. "Hopefully, as we see some turnover in the legislature with elections, we'll be able to get a critical mass of people who do understand that and support the legislation."

Another bill from Brinks would allow the state to recoup costs for cleaning up "emerging contaminants" like PFAS at sites where the removal of other pollutants has already begun. Similar legislation from Brinks died last session.

Sandy Wynn-Stelt is a co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Network, which support Brinks' proposals. Wynn-Stelt lives in Belmont, Mich., near where the Wolverine World Wide tannery contaminated groundwater with PFAS. Her husband died of cancer and she says she got her own cancer diagnosis last year.

“We drank this water," Wynn-Stelt said. "We let kids play in the sprinklers. We played in the rivers and the creeks and the lakes nearby.”

The Action Network is calling for a long list of PFAS-related policy changes, including legislation that would ban the chemicals from food packaging and cosmetics. The group wants to expand groundwater testing and to require insurance companies to cover blood testing for people impacted by PFAS.

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