Massachusetts Drinking Water Polluted With Firefighting Foam

firefighting foam

BOSTON, Massachusetts, May 25, 2022 (ENS) – State Attorney General Maura Healey today sued 13 manufacturers of poly- and perfluoroalkyl, PFAS, the so-called forever chemicals used in firefighting foam. They include some of the biggest firms in the country, such as 3M of St. Paul, Minnesota, which makes fluorochemicals.

The lawsuit alleges that the 13 manufacturers have caused millions of dollars in damages to communities across Massachusetts by “knowingly” contaminating drinking water sources, groundwater, and other natural resources with toxic PFAS chemicals that pose a threat to public health and the environment.

The suit also names two companies that shielded assets that Healey contends should be available to remedy the damages caused by PFAS contamination.

Fluorinated aqueous film-forming fire-fighting foams, AFFF, containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are used by the military, and in airports, refineries and by local fire departments to suppress flammable liquid fires, to help train firefighters, and to test firefighting equipment.

Aqueous film-forming foams have been used in the United States since the 1960s. They are effective at putting out fires, but they release persistent, toxic and bioaccumulative chemicals into the environment.

The AG’s suit alleges that the manufacturers’ AFFF products have caused and continue to cause serious contamination of the state’s natural resources, such as its famous coastal zones Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.

PFAS are now found in the state’s lakes, streams, and rivers like the Shawsheen River, a tributary of the Merrimack River; the islands of the coastal zones and their estuaries, which provide critical habitat for marine life; and in sediments, soils and submerged lands that are critical resources for a healthy ecosystem; and thousands of plant and animal species.

And the contamination doesn’t stop at the state line. AG Healey’s suit is a part of multidistrict litigation consisting of hundreds of lawsuits brought by state attorneys general, municipalities, and private and public water districts.

The 15 companies named in the Massachusetts lawsuit are 3M Company, AGC Chemical Americas Inc, Archroma U.S. Inc., Arkema Inc., Buckeye Fire Equipment, Chemguard Inc, Clarinet Corporation, Dynax Corporation, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Kidde-Fenwal Inc., National Foam Inc, The Chemours Company, Tyco Fire Products LP, Corteva Inc., and DuPont de Nemours Inc.

Massachusetts’s complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court in South Carolina, alleges these manufacturers repeatedly violated state and federal laws protecting drinking water and prohibiting consumer deception.

They broke the laws by marketing, manufacturing, and selling PFAS-containing aqueous film-forming foam to government entities, counties, municipalities, local fire departments, businesses and residents in Massachusetts while knowing of the serious dangers the chemicals posed, the complaint alleges.

AFFF products can cause thousands of gallons of foamy water laced with PFAS to enter the environment through soils, sediment, surface water, and groundwater.

What’s Wrong With That? Plenty!

Perfluoroalkyls are a group of man-made chemicals that are not found naturally in the environment. Some chemicals that are in this group are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), the two most frequently made in the United States.

The exposure of U.S. residents to perfluoroalkyls is widespread. The main sources in the environment are contaminated food and water, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ASTDR.

ASTDR warns that, “Research in humans suggests that high levels of certain perfluoroalkyls may lead to: increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response in children,
increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, small decreases in infant birth weights.

The lawsuit contends that, “Exposure to various PFAS, including through contaminated water supplies, can lead to serious health issues, including decreased antibody responses to vaccines, increased risk of childhood infections, developmental issues for children, decreased birthweight, testicular and kidney cancers, ulcerative colitis, liver damage, and thyroid disease.”

The dangers of these chemicals is well known. PFAS are found in Massachusetts and in many other parts of the country including in the drinking water of major cities like New York, Washington, DC, and Chicago.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, said, “Since taking office, our administration has provided over $110 million in funding to address PFAS contamination, including establishing strict standards for PFAS in drinking water and awarding funding to public water suppliers to help address PFAS contamination. We appreciate Attorney General Healey for her partnership in this matter and appreciate everyone’s collective work to protect Massachusetts’ drinking water sources.”

Healey said, “For decades, these manufacturers knew about the serious risks highly toxic PFAS chemicals pose to public health, the environment, and our drinking water – yet they did nothing about it, As a result of this deception, our municipalities are spending millions of dollars to provide safe drinking water to their residents.”

“I am suing today to hold these manufacturers accountable, require them to pay the growing costs these communities are shouldering, and repair our state’s precious natural resources that have been damaged by these illegal actions,” Healey said.

According to the lawsuit, the manufacturers’ illegal actions led to the contamination of more than 126 public drinking water systems in 86 communities with serious levels of PFAS contamination – such as in Chicopee, Weymouth, Abington, Rockland, Cape Cod and Stow.

The contamination has required sustained efforts by these and other municipalities and the expenditure of millions of dollars to address the threat to the public health and the environment.

Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts President Rich MacKinnon, Jr. is supporting Attorney General Healey in the filing of this lawsuit.

“We value our partnership with the AG in our ongoing battle against occupational cancer that plagues the firefighter profession. Large quantities of PFAS exist in the firefighting foam we use every day, and exposure to these forever chemicals has been linked to many forms of cancer,” MacKinnon said.

“The public we took an oath to protect is not immune to this problem either, as many of these forever chemicals have made their way into the public water systems,” MacKinnon said.

Deirdre Cummings, legislative director with the nonprofit public interest research group MASSPIRG, agrees, saying, “For too long, our brave firefighters have had their health ironically endangered by the products they use to protect the rest of us.”

Healey’s lawsuit claims that the manufacturers never warned the state or other buyers about the dangers of PFAS in the firefighting foam. To hide negative information about the toxicity of these products, manufacturers submitted false information to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and tried to prevent workers from discussing the risks associated with the chemicals, the complaint alleges.

The lawsuit asserts claims under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, and the Massachusetts Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, among others.

The state is seeking costs to clean up and remove, restore, treat, and monitor PFAS contamination and an order requiring the manufacturers to reimburse the state for the damages its products caused. The complaint also demands that the manufacturers remediate and restore the state’s natural resources and pay investigation fees and costs.

Featured image: Firefighters use aqueous film-forming foam to extinguish a fire. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Amber Powell, U.S. Air National Guard)

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