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Water District Files Lawsuit Over Contamination From Firefighting Foam Used at Nearby Air Force Base

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A local water district in Colorado has joined a growing number of municipal bodies nationwide to file a lawsuit over toxic chemicals in firefighting foam used at nearby military facilities, indicating various chemical companies and safety equipment manufacturers should be held liable for contaminating the district’s drinking water supply.

3M Company, BASF Corporation, DuPont, Tyco Fire Products and others are named as defendants in a complaint (PDF) filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, pursuing damages on behalf of the Stratmoor Hills Water District.

According to the lawsuit, chemicals from aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) leached from the soil into groundwater following decades of use during training operations at the nearby Peterson Air Force Base (PAFB) in Colorado Springs.

The firefighting foams are commonly used to combat Class B fires, which involve petroleum and other flammable liquids. These foams contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which are known to be toxic, cancer-causing agents that persist in the environment for extended time, and are thus known as “forever chemicals.”

“Due to these training operations, AFFF was released into the surrounding air, soil, and groundwater at locations including but not limited to the current fire training area (FTA) (1991 to date), the former FTA known as Site 5 (1960 through 1977), and the former FTA known as Site 8 (1977 to 1991),” the lawsuit states. “AFFF was additionally introduced into the groundwater via aircraft hangers containing fire suppression systems that used AFFF. During function testing or false alarms, AFFF was permitted to enter the air, soil, and groundwater, further contaminating Plaintiff’s drinking water.”

Experts indicate PFAS chemicals contained in the fire foam may take thousands of years to degrade, and past studies have shown their ability to enter and stay in the environment and human body through the air, dust, food, soil, and water.

The toxic chemicals were first introduced into the manufacturing industry in the 1940’s, because of their ability to resist heat, grease, stains, and water. However, since then the chemicals have been linked to a myriad of adverse health effects including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.

Stratmoor Hills’ complaint joins similar complaints brought in recent months by other local water companies, as well as residents living around military bases, airports and other training sites, where the film-forming foam was regularly sprayed, resulting in widespread water contamination.

There are also hundreds of individual firefighter cancer lawsuits filed on behalf of individuals directly exposed to the chemicals while spraying the products during training or response exercises, indicating that the toxic chemicals caused various injuries, such as testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and other cancers.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in the cases, the federal litigation is centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, where it is expected that a small group of “bellwether” cases will be prepared for early trial dates, to help the parties gauge how juries respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the claims. However, if settlements or another resolution for the lawsuits is not reached following coordinated pretrial proceedings, hundreds of individual claims brought by firefighters and others may later be remanded to U.S. District Courts nationwide for separate jury trials.

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