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Whidbey Island resident files lawsuit over water contamination

Sailors test an aqueous film forming foam firefighting hose aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., on Nov. 6, 2014.

IGNACIO D. PEREZ/U.S. NAVY

By KIMBERLY CAUVEL | Skagit Valley Herald, Mount Vernon, Wash. | Published: February 9, 2019

OAK HARBOR, Wash. (Tribune News Service) — An Oak Harbor resident who says her well was contaminated with chemicals from firefighting foam used at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

The lawsuit accuses five companies involved in the manufacture, marketing, sales and delivery of the firefighting foam of knowingly putting the water – and therefore the environment and public health – at risk in areas around NAS Whidbey Island and hundreds of other military bases.

"As a result, significant portions of the water supply and soil on Whidbey Island are contaminated ... exposing residents to significant health risks and devaluing their lands," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday as a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

The plaintiff, Krista Jackson, is asking the court to require the companies to pay her and potentially thousands of others who have been affected by the firefighting foam.

The lawsuit includes seven complaints against The 3M Company, Tyco Fire Products, Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, Chemguard Inc., and National Foam Inc.

The complaints include negligence, product liability for failure to warn and trespass.

At issue is a foam that was used for decades to fight fires, particularly during military practices and incidents involving petroleum-based fires such as from aircraft crashes.

The chemicals from the foam – called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, or generally PFAS – pose health concerns, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the chemicals may increase risks for kidney and testicular cancer and can possibly affect fetal development and the immune system.

As a result of the foam's longtime use, "Oak Harbor and Coupeville ... have widespread contamination in their water supply," the class action lawsuit states.

The Navy itself has helped to document that contamination.

It determined through water testing that 15 residential wells in the area had concentrations of the chemicals above the EPA's recommended exposure limit.

As of press time, it is unclear if Jackson's well was one of those tested by the Navy.

The Navy is providing bottled water or water filtration systems to those with affected wells. It is also in the process of building a water filtration system for the town of Coupeville to ensure its residents are protected from the chemical contamination.

The chemicals don't break down in the environment, and once consumed through contaminated water or food they accumulate in the body, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

So while the chemicals have been phased out of manufacturing since about 2002, according to the EPA, they are still found in the environment and in the blood of those exposed to contamination.

The class action lawsuit argues that it is necessary for Jackson and others represented in the lawsuit to undergo more frequent medical testing in order to detect and treat related medical problems.

Jackson is seeking payment from the defendant companies for that increased medical testing, as well as decreased property values, the cost of the lawsuit and attorney's fees, and any other damages the court deems fit.

The settlement amount being sought is not listed because the number of those who qualify to be represented in the lawsuit has not been determined, but is expected to exceed $5 million, according to the lawsuit.

The use of the firefighting foam at NAS Whidbey Island has left area residents with "a persistent poison lurking in their water supply," the lawsuit states.

The team representing the plaintiff in the lawsuit has created a website where potentially impacted current and past Whidbey Island residents can contact them for consultation.

The team includes Robert Teel, a former Whidbey Island resident now based in Seattle and practicing through the Law Office of Robert L. Teel, and five members of Edelson PC, an Illinois-based law firm that focuses on class actions and other lawsuits against major companies.

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(c)2019 the Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, Wash.)
Visit the Skagit Valley Herald at www.goskagit.com
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