Toxic Chemical Exposure Lawsuit
Reviewed by: John Yanchunis
Clean water is one of the basic necessities of life. When our tap water is contaminated, daily activities like cooking, bathing, and eating can seriously endanger our health.
When companies pollute drinking water by dumping chemicals into local waterways, or through releasing chemicals into the air or soil that contaminate our groundwater and eventually our drinking water, individuals, businesses, and communities may be able to hold them accountable by filing a lawsuit.
How is Drinking Water Contaminated?
Public drinking water can be contaminated in a number of different ways.
- Groundwater contamination: Chemicals can seep from products like pesticides and firefighting foams into the ground, eventually contaminating groundwater. Toxic groundwater can then stream into larger bodies of water like rivers, especially when the area floods.
- Waste removal: The most obvious way that companies contaminate water is when they dump their waste into soil, pits, lagoons, or waterways near manufacturing plants.
- Aboveground and underground storage tank failure: Oil refineries, manufacturing plants, and farms often use large containers to store chemicals or waste. When these storage tanks leak, the surrounding soil and groundwater are quickly contaminated. During Hurricane Harvey, damaged storage tanks leaked 145,000 gallons of fuel and other contaminants.
- Water treatment: In Denmark, South Carolina, the state government added HaloSan, a chemical that isn't approved by the EPA, to drinking water wells to combat a naturally occurring iron bacteria. The EPA identified HaloSan as an eye and skin irritant in a 2007 risk assessment report.
- Insufficient water treatment: Failure to properly treat water can also have consequences. Naturally occurring elements like heavy metals can become a public health threat if they aren’t filtered out of our water.
- Lead-based pipes: Older lead-based pipes can contaminate drinking water with lead—a heavy metal linked to lowered IQ and stunted growth. This was the cause of the Flint water crisis.
What are common water contaminants?
Heavy metal toxins are among the most common drinking water contaminants. These include lead, mercury, arsenic, and chlorine.
Man-made chemicals used to make everything from pesticides and plastic to nonstick cookware coating and fire-repellant foams can also contaminate public drinking water.
One family of chemicals—perfluorinated chemicals and perfluorooctanoic acids, or PFCs and PFOAs—have allegedly created what the Environmental Working Group (EWG) calls a “drinking water contamination crisis.” These chemicals are used to make waterproof and stain-resistant materials, teflon nonstick cookware, and firefighting foams. PFCs and PFOAs are a particular environmental and health nightmare because they remain in the environment for a long time and accumulate in the bodies of humans and animals, so if they ever breakdown, they do so very slowly.
Research conducted by the EWG and Northeastern University found that 15 million Americans have PFC- or PFOA-contaminated tap water. They warn that the chemicals may cause cancer, thyroid disease, or weakened immunity.
Stuart, Florida Sues 3M and Others
In October 2018, our attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of the city of Stuart, Florida for PFOS- and PFOA-contaminated water. Attorney Frank Petosa filed the lawsuit in the Southern District Court of Florida.
The lawsuit alleges that Aqueous Film Forming Foam, which contains PFOAs and PFOSs, is the source of the contamination. This product was used by the Stuart Fire Rescue to fight fires before the chemicals were pulled from the market. The city of Stuart alleges that the chemicals from the foam contaminated groundwater after it was used, which eventually seeped into and polluted the city’s drinking water wells.
The lawsuit is filed against the following fire suppression product manufacturers: 3M, Tyco Fire Products, Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, Chemguard, and National Foam.
The lawsuit alleges the following:
- Aqueous Film Forming Foam instructions and warning labels did not adequately describe the scope of danger associated with storage, use, clean up, and disposal of the product, or the procedures necessary for the safe storage, use, clean up, and disposal of the foam.
- Defendants were aware of the health risks associated with use, disposal and bioaccumulation of Aqueous Film Forming Foam chemicals, but did not warn users.
- At no time during the relevant period did the Defendants warn Stuart Fire Rescue that the ingredients in the AFFF were persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic, or that, once introduced into the environment, its chemical components would readily mix with groundwater.
- 3M and the other defendants had known of the dangers of PFOS for years, but never recalled its dangerous products or warned users of its toxic danger.
The city of Stuart seeks monetary damages to cover the costs of investigating the contamination, testing and monitoring the water, providing water from an alternate source, and installing and maintaining an adequate filtration system. They also seek punitive damages to deter the companies from “similar wrongful conduct in the future.”
Water Contamination Lawsuits Have Settled for Millions
In February of 2018, 3M settled a lawsuit with Minnesota's Attorney General that claimed the company contaminated the state's drinking water with PFCs. 3M agreed to pay $850 million to the state for natural resource damages.
In 2017, DuPont and Chemours settled thousands of similar lawsuits involving their use of PFOAs in Teflon products. Lawsuits alleged that PFOAs leaked from their West Virginia plant into local drinking water. Altogether, they agreed to pay $671 million.
If you believe your tap water is contaminated with a dangerous toxins or chemicals like lead, cadmium, PFOAs, PFCs, or PFOSs, or solvents like TCE or PCE, our attorneys want to hear from you. In addition to representing the city of Stuart, Florida, they have also represented individuals affected by some of the largest environmental disasters of our time, including the BP oil disaster.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation legal review.
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