Washington State Water District Pursuing Damages for PFAS Contaminated Water Supply

A Washington State water district that supplies drinking water to approximately 115,000 customers has filed a product liability lawsuit seeking to hold the United States government, the Air Force, the Army, the Department of Defense, 3M Company and the manufacturers of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) and other compounds and products containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), accountable for carcinogenic chemicals that were released into the groundwater that supplies the district’s public water supply. If you and your loved ones have suffered side effects allegedly caused by exposure to PFAS in firefighter foam or contaminated drinking water, an attorney with experience handling firefighter foam cancer cases can help. Contact a knowledgeable product liability attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options for legal recourse.

Groundwater Contaminated by PFAS in Firefighting Foam

This new groundwater contamination lawsuit was filed on July 16 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington by Lakewood Water District, and the suit names as defendants the U.S. government, the Department of the Air Force, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, 3M Company, Tyco Fire Products LP, Angus International Safety Group, Ltd., Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, Chemguard, Inc., The Chemours Company, Chubb Fire, Ltd., E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., Kidde-Fenwal, Inc., Kidde PLC, Inc., National Foam, Inc., Raytheon Technologies Corporation, and UTC Fire & Security Americas Corporation, Inc. Lakewood Water Distirct is pursuing damages for the use of AFFF by firefighters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Air Force Base (JBLM) near Tacoma, Washington, which the lawsuit states led to groundwater contamination that has adversely affected the water district.

Health Risks Linked to PFAS Exposure

According to the firefighting foam lawsuit, the Army and the Air Force used AFFF, better known as firefighting foam, at JBLM for both emergency fire responses and training purposes from about 1970 until 2016. Firefighting foam is a foam product widely used by the U.S. military, commercial airports, and civilian fire departments for fire suppression purposes. The foam is designed to cool the fire and coat the fuel, which makes it a useful product for rapidly extinguishing jet fuel and petroleum fires. However, the Lakewood Water District in Washington State alleges that firefighter foam is unreasonably dangerous for its intended use because it contains perfluorooctane acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), cancer-causing chemicals known collectively as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

PFAS were first introduced into the manufacturing industry in the 1940’s and they have been used by the U.S. military for fuel firefighting purposes since the 1970’s. The risk associated with exposure to PFAS is the fact that the chemicals can build up and remain in the body for long periods of time, which has been linked to an increased risk of testicular cancer, prostate cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer and other serious health problems among those exposed, either through direct use of AFFF (i.e. former military and civilian firefighters) or through drinking water contaminated with PFAS (i.e. residents of communities near military bases where AFFF was used). In fact, because PFAS chemicals do not break down and because they can accumulate in blood and tissues if they are orally ingested, inhaled through exposure in the atmosphere, or absorbed through the skin, they are commonly known as “forever chemicals.”

PFAS Contamination Near Military Sites

Over the past year, the federal government has identified at least 678 active and former U.S. military sites with potentially harmful levels of PFOS and PFOA due to firefighting foam that was spilled or discharged, many of which were found to have contaminated groundwater or drinking water. “Studies have connected the United States’ use of […] AFFF to PFAS groundwater contamination at and in the vicinity of JBLM,” the firefighter foam lawsuit filed by Lakewood Water District states. “The United States’ failure to properly manage, capture, and contain AFFF used at JBLM has resulted in AFFF releases to the environment, including to soil and surface water and in the vicinity of JBLM and the District’s property.”

According to the lawsuit, when the United States became aware of PFAS contamination at JBLM, it shut down the water supply wells on the base and allocated funds to treat the wells. Unfortunately, “By shutting down its own wells, the United States increased the groundwater flow away from JBLM, creating an opportunity for PFAS released at JBLM to migrate more quickly to and further contaminate the District’s soil and groundwater.” In its lawsuit, Lakewood Water District alleges that the makers of firefighter foam products marketed, distributed and sold their products knowing that the foam would be used at JBLM and other Army and Air Force bases for fire suppression and training exercises, and knowing that such use could release PFAS into the environment and pose a risk to human health.