Recently, Ford Motor Company sent a letter to the owners of homes and businesses to the immediate east of Ford’s Transmission Plant in Livonia, Michigan, to deliver the unfortunate news that a chemical known as “vinyl chloride” is contaminating the shallow groundwater in their neighborhood. The revelation of this serious groundwater contamination demands more and urgent testing, specifically to determine how and where the vinyl chloride may be moving, and whether it is threatening to intrude–in “vapor” form– into the homes and businesses, where people are breathing the air. However, even though it has apparently not done this critical testing, Ford nevertheless wrote in its letter that “there is no health risk to residents” from the contamination, and that the “extent of the vinyl chloride has successfully been defined”.
While Ford may have good intentions, and want to reassure its neighbors, the reassurance is, at best, premature. It may even be wrong. Ford has not done the testing and investigation necessary to prove that its comforting statements are true. These families and business owners do not need unsupported assurances. They have the right to full disclosure from Ford–and from the State of Michigan, if it has important information–of all of the facts, so that they can make informed decisions about protecting themselves against any threat to their property and health from the vinyl chloride. They should not have to rely on the good faith of a big company and their government.
As a lawyer who represents families contending with these very same problems and dangerous chemicals, I wanted to offer the following thoughts gained from my experience: