It may come as a shock to the average American that the Environmental Protection Agency ̶ charged with protecting the nation’s natural resources and the health of its citizens ̶ plans to avoid imposing a federal standard for the contamination of drinking water with the dangerous compounds PFOA and PFOS, collectively referenced as PFCs. These man-made chemicals, now known to cause serious illnesses including cancers, ulcerative colitis and thyroid disease, have found their way into the bloodstreams of millions of Americans, primarily through the ingestion of polluted water from municipal and private wells. Scientists consider them toxic at infinitesimal concentrations, in the parts per trillion range.
But sadly, this terrible decision is not surprising, given the current administration’s appointment of a former spokesman for the coal industry to head the EPA. Coal companies and other major polluters are making a concerted effort to undermine regulation designed to protect drinking water and environmental health. In the summer of 2018 they successfully delayed, and nearly prevented the publication of the Agency’s own study that concluded that existing drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS provided inadequate protection for human health. These efforts have a transparent purpose: to insulate the large corporations responsible for the pollution from liability and accountability for its effects.
Fortunately, federal oversight is not the only game in town. Some of the states most affected by PFOA and PFOS contamination, including New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Minnesota have implemented more aggressive standards, setting “acceptable” concentrations in water at levels far below federal guidelines. For consumers and homeowners already harmed by the pollution, the common law of tort remains an effective remedy. Currently, hundreds of lawsuits have been filed across the nation against the manufacturers and industrial users of PFCs, seeking monetary damages for property damage, medical monitoring expenses and personal injury. Williams Cedar is proud to represent the plaintiffs in many of these “toxic tort” cases.
Federal abandonment of important regulatory action is a reminder that litigation, with all its imperfection, is often needed to fill the void created when governments fail to protect their citizens. The Seventh Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing trial by jury in civil cases, embodies the principle: When politicians fail to enforce the law equitably, citizens must rise to the task.