Tyco Fire Products, a company known for manufacturing firefighting foam products commonly used at airports and military bases to suppress flammable liquid fires, has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit brought by residents of a Wisconsin community over contamination of their private wells with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Per the settlement, which is the first involving firefighting foam, Tyco and two chemical manufacturing companies, Chemguard Inc. and ChemDesign Inc., will pay up to $17.5 million to hundreds of homeowners in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, to resolve claims of toxic PFAS contamination. Of the total settlement amount, $15 million will be earmarked for class-wide claims, such as property damage, and $2.5 million will be earmarked for residents who have been diagnosed with kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis and preeclampsia.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are synthetic chemicals used to make aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) and other widely used products. Better known as firefighting foam, AFFF is a foam used to suppress high-hazard flammable liquid fires on military bases, at commercial airports and at fire training facilities. PFAS chemicals have been around in the U.S. since the 1940s and are valued for their ability to resist heat, water, stains, and grease. They are known as “forever” chemicals because they are persistent in the environment and the human body and do not fully degrade over time. In fact, research has shown that the chemicals can build up (bioaccumulate) in the body with repeated exposure to contaminated water, dust, soil, food or water, and put individuals at risk for cancer or other serious health problems.
Companies that manufacture PFAS or use them to make other products, like firefighting foam, have faced increased scrutiny in recent years, due to reports of PFAS chemicals leaching into drinking water supplies and entering private wells in communities located close to military bases, airports, wastewater treatment plants, firefighter training facilities or oil refineries. Also at risk for potential PFAS contamination are homeowners who live near sites where PFAS-containing foams were used to put out fires, spill sites, landfills, and PFAS testing and research sites. In this latest firefighting foam case brought by homeowners in Wisconsin, the PFAS contamination originated from a Tyco Fire Products testing facility in Marinette, where AFFF was tested for years up until 2017.
Although this class action settlement is the first having to do with AFFF, it is not the first settlement related to PFAS contamination. In 2017, chemical manufacturers DuPont and Chemours paid more than $670 million to settle thousands of lawsuits related to contamination stemming from a plant in West Virginia. The contamination in that case had to do with a PFAS chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which was used to make a nonstick, waterproof coating called Teflon. PFOA was reportedly released into the air and water surrounding the plant, which was originally run by DuPont and then by Chemours. That same year, Dupont paid $12.5 million to resolve another lawsuit filed by a West Virginia resident who claimed that exposure to PFOA from the same plant caused him to develop kidney cancer.
According to court documents, this latest PFAS contamination settlement with Tyco, Chemguard and ChemDesign includes homeowners who lived in Peshtigo, Wisconsin between January 1, 1965 and December 31, 2020, and had a private well on their property within a specific zone. “This settlement marks a significant step in victims’ efforts to secure just compensation for those impacted by PFAS contamination caused by (aqueous film-forming foam),” said an attorney representing residents of communities across the country affected by pollution from toxic firefighting foam products. “But there is still more work to do as we continue to seek to hold the manufacturers of these chemicals accountable for the harm they’ve inflicted on individuals and the environment.”
Companies that make and test firefighting foams and companies that manufacture PFAS for use in AFFF and other products face a growing number of lawsuits filed over the contamination of private wells and water supplies in communities across the country. These PFAS contamination claims allege that toxic chemicals from firefighting foam that leached into drinking water supplies caused residents of these areas to develop one or more of the following conditions:
This latest class action lawsuit was originally filed in December 2018 by property owner Joan Campbell of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, who allegedly developed thyroid cancer and thyroid disease as a result of exposure to PFAS in her private well, and her husband, Richard. The settlement was submitted to the court early last month, and Judge Richard B. Gergel of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, the federal judge overseeing all cases involving PFAS contamination from AFFF nationwide, issued a preliminary approval order on January 25, 2021. Depending on the level of PFAS contamination, homeowners included in the settlement could receive anywhere from $60,000 to $70,000 per property.