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Apr 5, 2017 11:16 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Homeowners Sue Suffolk County, Firefighting Foam Manufacturers Over Drinking Water Contamination

Apr 17, 2017 5:10 PM

More than 100 people, including current and former residents of Westhampton and Quiogue, have filed a class action lawsuit against multiple firefighting foam manufacturers alleging that their product—used for decades at a nearby military base—polluted their drinking water.

The plaintiffs, who mostly include those who live south of the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing base, where the contamination has been traced by investigators, are also suing Suffolk County charging that officials failed to properly regulate the foam—which was frequently used at the Westhampton facility but only recently red-flagged by federal environmental agencies—for decades.

Filed with the State Supreme Court in Suffolk County on March 27, the lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of punitive damages from both the foam manufacturers and the county. The plaintiffs are also demanding the creation of a fund, to be financed by the defendants, that would pay for any medical issues associated with the exposure and consumption of the chemicals.

The filing comes roughly nine months after Suffolk County officials announced that testing wells in the area revealed the presence of two chemicals—perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA—commonly found in firefighting foam used in training exercises at the base. Over the next several months, county officials tested 69 private wells and some public wells for the chemicals, finding the contaminants in eight owned by homeowners.

The suit specifically names as defendants Suffolk County and the following companies: The 3M Company, a mining and manufacturing firm in Minnesota; Tyco Fire Products, a Minnesota-based company that manufactures fire suppressing foam; Angus Fire, a foam manufacturer in the United Kingdom; National Foam of Pennsylvania; Buckeye Fire Protection Company of New Jersey; and Chemguard of Wisconsin.

All of the companies have sold firefighting foam, which contains both chemicals found in local drinking water, to the ANG since 1970, according to the lawsuit.

"[Aqueous Film-Forming Foam] is a product that was used by the U.S. military and departments of defense around the world because it saves lives—which likely explains why this product remains in use approximately a decade after 3M exited the sale of it," says William A. Brewer III, a partner at Brewer, Attorney's & Counselors and counsel for defendant 3M. "We believe this lawsuit against 3M lacks merit and fails to appreciate that 3M sold these products with instructions regarding their safe use and disposal."

Mr. Brewer also explained that 3M has been involved in similar lawsuits in the past but the case was dismissed.

"3M has prevailed in cases exploring similar issues," he continued. "In a recent matter, the plaintiff dismissed tis claims against 3M and agreed to pay a significant portion of the company's legal fees for having brought this case. 3M will vigorously defend these types of legal actions. 3M acted responsibly at all times and will defend its record of stewardship in connection with its manufacturing and sale of AFFF."

The plaintiffs filed a notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, in February.

The contamination was announced in July when Suffolk County officials said they had detected both chemicals in testing wells at Francis S Gabreski Airport in Westhampton. At the time, Suffolk Health Department officials also tested the wells at 69 private homes and said they discovered contamination in eight, with levels ranging from 0.086 parts per billion to 1.88 ppb. Traces of the chemicals were also discovered in three additional wells, but in trace amounts and lower than Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

Traces of the chemicals were also detected in public water drinking supplies, prompting the installation of filters to remove them, according to Suffolk County Water Authority officials.

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