“ECUA sues national manufacturers over contamination of Escambia water wells”
Kevin Robinson, Pensacola News Journal Published 6:00 a.m. CT June 26, 2018
The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority is suing the manufacturers and sellers of a fire-suppressant foam that allegedly contaminated a portion of the local water supply with highly toxic chemicals.
For decades, Aqueous Film-Forming Foam, or AFFF, has been used by the Department of Defense and other agencies to put out flammable liquid fires. Until the turn of the 21st century, the foam was manufactured using a pair of chemicals that have been linked to birth defects, organ damage, increased risk of cancers and other adverse health impacts.
AFFF has been used for training exercises and firefighting in at least two local facilities — Pensacola International Airport and the now defunct Bronson Field Naval Auxiliary Air Station. The ECUA alleges toxins from the foam, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) have seeped into the soil and groundwater around those areas and contaminated four ECUA water wells.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, names five companies — 3M Company, Tyco Fire Products LP, Chemguard Inc., Buckeye Fire Equipment Company and National Foam Inc. — as defendants, along with up to 49 "John Doe" defendants who manufactured, sold and distributed AFFF.
The ECUA complaint claims "the defendants' conduct has injured and continues to injure the property, health, safety and/or comfort of a considerable number of persons, including a considerable number of persons in Escambia County, Florida."
The defendants have not yet filed a response to the complaint.
According to the lawsuit, the affected wells are:
The Hagler Well, which was removed from service in June, 2015
The Bronson Well, which was removed from service in November 2015
The Spanish Trail Well, which began running at limited capacity in July, 2016 and was not returned to full capacity until a costly Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) filtration system was installed in June, 2017
The Airport North Well, which was taken out of service in 2011 and did not resume production until it received a GAC system in August, 2017
The lawsuit does not list any specific health impacts to citizens of Pensacola and Escambia County, it simply notes PFOA and PFOS have been detected and/or are present in the wells at levels above the federally advised health guidelines.
According to a fact sheet from the EPA, the chemicals have been used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food, cookware and other materials that are resistant to water, grease or stains.
"Because these chemicals have been used in an array of consumer products,
most people have been exposed to them," the fact sheet says. It notes that the health advisory levels are based on the drinking water intake of nursing women.
Companies began voluntarily phasing out PFOA and PFOS in the early 2000s amid rising pressure from the EPA, and they continued making products such as AFFF using alternative materials.
However, the ECUA lawsuit alleges the manufacturers of AFFF knew about the dangers of the chemical since the 1980s and took no action to make the product safer or advise customers of the foam's potential health and environmental risks.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants knew, or reasonably should have known, that "PFOA and PFOS are toxic, and when sprayed in the open environment per the instructions given by the manufacturer, PFOA and PFOS readily migrate through the subsurface, mix easily with groundwater, resist natural degradation, render drinking water unsafe and/or non-potable, and can be removed from public
drinking water supplies only at substantial expense."
The complaint accuses the defendants of numerous transgressions including negligence, public nuisance, failure to warn of potential hazards and design and distribution of a defective product.
The ECUA is seeking punitive damages and the costs of past, present and future investigation, sampling, treatment, remediation, maintenance and monitoring of its wells and systems.
Kevin Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 850-435-8527.
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