Toxic contamination of drinking water gained national attention in 2016 when residents of Flint, Michigan began investigating problems with their drinking water. Today, a costly remedial effort is underway to repair damaged plumbing, provide bottled water, and fight extensive court battles over liability for damage to health and property.
Unfortunately, similar situations appear to be playing out across the country. A number of states are attempting to require polluters to remediate drinking water contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The twist here is that much of the contamination is caused by the Federal government and the military.
There are thousands of PFASs, but two are among the most dangerous and of concern here. Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are two chemicals found in firefighting foams, which were used extensively at military installations for training and firefighting since the 1970s. These chemicals are known to leach into the environment and migrate. They have found their way into underground aquifers and public and private drinking water wells.
There is evidence that these compounds are likely to cause serious health problems including ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, reproductive health problems, and even some cancers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a recommended (advisory) limit for drinking water of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for these two dangerous PFASs. PFOS or PFOA have been found at levels that exceed the advisory limit in over 560 drinking water supplies around approximately 50 military bases. The response of the federal government to this problem has been slow and inconsistent.
The agency has occasionally used a clause in the Safe Drinking Water Act regarding an imminent and substantial endangerment to justify requiring the military to act on PFAS contamination. Earlier this year, the EPA announced a PFAS Action Plan, including its intention to set a PFAS drinking water standard and declare PFAS as hazardous substances under the Federal Superfund law (Comprehensive Environmental. Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)). 42 U.S.C. 9601 et seq. So far, the agency has not yet acted on that intention. As such, there is no enforceable federal standard set for PFAS in drinking water.
In light of the vacuum of leadership shown by the EPA, state agencies have attempted to fill the gap. In New Mexico, the State’s Water Quality Control Commission added PFOS and PFOA to its listing of regulated substances. Its environmental department then issued violations to two U.S. Air Force bases for violation of the standards. The Air Force sued the state, claiming the PFAS standard was arbitrary, capricious, and abuse of discretion, and not supported by substantial evidence. New Mexico countersued stating the Air Force violated the law and should be held liable for applicable fines and penalties. Similar cases are ongoing in a number of other states, including Colorado, Michigan, and New York.
Some of the highest levels of contamination have been found in Pennsylvania. Regulators are considering creating a state drinking water standard while legislators ponder whether there is a legal fix.
Whether you have become ill from toxic exposure or have soil, water, air, or a work environment polluted by harmful chemicals, Williams Cedar’s team of dedicated and experienced Philadelphia environmental lawyers can help you recover damages. Call 215-557-0099 or 856-470-9777 or complete an online contact form for a free consultation. From our offices in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we assist clients across Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and nationwide.