Lawsuit alleges tainted water caused cancer

Lawsuit alleges tainted water caused cancer

Source: Decatur Daily (AL), November 19, 2017
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Alleging exposure to toxic chemicals in their drinking water caused cancer and other health problems, 24 area residents have filed a federal lawsuit against three companies and a local utility.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal actions related to the industrial chemicals perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA) in the Tennessee River.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory indicating that even trace amounts of the two chemicals in drinking water — as little as 70 parts per trillion over a lifetime of exposure — presented potential health risks, including certain types of cancer, thyroid problems, and immune system effects.

Defendants named in the suit include the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority, which issued a temporary no-drink warning last year when levels of the two chemicals rose above EPA recommendations.

The utility since has installed a temporary filtration system to remove the chemicals.

Other defendants include 3M Co., its subsidiary Dyneon LLC, and Daikin America Inc., all of which have used the now-discontinued chemicals at their plants in Decatur.

The long-chain polymers do not break down easily, leading to their continued presence in the environment.

According to court filings, each of the 24 plaintiffs suffer from health problems that have been positively correlated to the two chemicals in previous epidemiological studies.

Reported health problems by the plaintiffs included kidney cancer, thyroid cancer and other thyroid diseases, and ulcerative colitis.

Additionally, all of the plaintiffs are presently or were previously customers of the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority, which has its water intake 13 miles downstream from 3M, according to the complaint.

Notably, the lawsuit seeks damages primarily on the basis of personal injury claims. Most other lawsuits filed over the chemicals seek damages on the basis of impact to property and public nuisance claims.

“Exposure and elevated levels of PFOA in the blood of the Plaintiffs is sufficient to cause many of the health effects reported in recent studies, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, and ulcerative colitis,” the plaintiffs alleged in their complaint.

Attorneys with the Birmingham law firm Wiggins Childs Pantazis Fisher Goldfarb LLC, which is representing the plaintiffs, did not return requests for comment Friday.

William Brewer III, legal counsel for 3M, denied the alleged health connection in a statement.

“3M believes the claims lack merit, as they are based on the mistaken belief that the mere presence of these chemicals equals harm,” he said. “We do not believe there is a PFC-related public health issue in Alabama, and we are confident that 3M has acted responsibly at all times.”

The lawsuit alleges 3M knew for at least 35 years that PFOA and PFOS were toxic.

It also alleges all the defendants fraudulently withheld and concealed information about the “substantial health risks associated with drinking and using contaminated water in any capacity.”

Unrelated to the latest lawsuit, Tennessee Riverkeeper, a local environmental group, reported last week that nearly 10 million pounds of toxic chemicals were dumped into Alabama’s rivers in 2015.

The report was based on an analysis of the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory in which industries self-report their own emissions.

David Whiteside, executive director of Tennessee Riverkeeper, said the analysis was conducted by multiple Riverkeeper officials across the state, including engineers and scientists.

“You’re dealing with carcinogens that are being dumped in our backyard, and it’s really frightening and depressing research,” he said.

Of companies that discharge into Alabama waterways, Ascend Performance Materials in Decatur topped Riverkeeper’s list for overall output of all toxins at 1.4 million pounds.

BP Amoco Chemicals in Decatur ranked first for the discharge of chemicals that cause developmental problems in developing fetuses and newborns at 15,100 pounds, and Daikin America in Decatur ranked first for chemicals that cause reproductive health problems at 21,459 pounds, according to Riverkeeper.

Requests for comment from Indorama Ventures Public Co., which purchased the BP plant last year, and Ascend Performance Materials were not returned before deadline.

A spokesman for Daikin North America said he was not authorized to speak about the Riverkeeper report or the latest lawsuit, but he would refer the request to other officials within the company.

Tennessee Riverkeeper is suing 3M, Daikin, Dyneon, Toray Fluorofibers America Inc., BFI Waste Systems of Alabama, and various local government entities seeking a court order that the defendants clean up PFOA and PFOS contamination of the Tennessee River.

Whiteside said that case is slated for trial sometime in 2019.

In another lawsuit, the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority, on behalf of its customers, is suing 3M, Dyneon, and Daikin America, alleging their actions caused the contamination of the system’s water.

That case is set for trial in October 2018. Carl Cole, an attorney for the water authority, said Friday that discovery was proceeding slowly, but the results of discovery during which the attorneys have been deposing 3M officials have been encouraging. He declined to go into detail.

Brewer said company officials are anxious to move forward with the case.

“3M looks forward to bringing the facts of this case into full public view,” he said in a statement.

Daikin has agreed to settle its portions of the lawsuit for $5 million to pay for the temporary filtration system and reimburse customers for water they couldn’t drink during the no-drink warning.

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