An amended complaint has been filed in a lawsuit initiated by a group of Brighton Township residents against General Motors alleging groundwater contamination resulting from the Milford Proving Grounds.

There are now more than 30 defendants in the lawsuit, which was initially filed by a group of Brighton Township residents represented by Attorney Alexander Memmen. The case will likely receive class action status. The lawsuit alleges contamination of the plaintiffs’ groundwater and that GM concealed its knowledge of the contamination migration, committing fraud. Compensation is being sought for property damage and personal injury caused by GM’s alleged pollution and for the cost of obtaining potable water.

Residents claim the contamination has caused permanent environmental damage, affected their home values, caused damages to vegetation and landscaping, damaged and corroded personal property and caused negative health effects. The suit alleges that despite reports citing sodium chloride contamination for more than 30 years, GM actively concealed and ignored the level of pollutants leaching into neighboring groundwater and drinking water sources until 2014. Residents allege that GM has committed fraud, violated the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, was negligent, trespassed and have been a public and private nuisance.

Memmen tells WHMI the contamination dates back to at least 1985 and GM has literally been pouring tons of salt onto its property. He says GM has salted roads at the testing facility 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year for decades but other things also contribute to the contamination. Memmen says the contamination has spread to nearby wells and the salt levels are way above the state and federal threshold considered safe for human consumption. He says the water is not only undrinkable but the salt causes other side effects that diminish property values. He says appliances are demolished by the salt content and it reduces the lifespan of dishwashers, washing machines and shower heads. Memmen says it also causes a massive hardship to go purchase bottled water every week for not only drinking but other tasks, such as washing produce.

The lawsuit was originally filed in Livingston County Circuit Court in November of 2017 but has bounced around since. The amended complaint that was filed was premised exclusively under Michigan state law. The case is currently being heard in U.S. District Court in Detroit, but it could move back down to the local level based on a recent order for GM to show cause within ten days why the case should not be remanded back for lack of federal jurisdiction. The action to move the lawsuit was initiated by GM as the automaker believed issues concerning the proving grounds were related to the company’s 2009 bankruptcy and thus belonged in federal court. The case went to bankruptcy court in New York, where a judgement was issued in May for claims related to the “old” and “new” GM entities from pre- and post-bankruptcy, and dismissing five of 14 counts.

GM has said it does not believe the suit has merit, saying “Salt deposits naturally occur in this area, and salt is also used on the many nearby public roads during winter.” The company further maintains that “acting as a good neighbor, salt usage at the Milford Proving Ground has been reduced by 60% over the last two decades. (JM)