Alabama water works files lawsuit in South Carolina against chemical manufacturers for PFAS contamination
al.com March 2, 2023
This story originally appeared in the Lede. For more visit www.birminghamlede.com.
(Tribune News Service) — The Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) is taking multiple chemical companies to federal court in South Carolina, accusing them of contaminating Birmingham’s drinking water supply — which was never disclosed to the public before now.
And despite contending in the suit that water continues to be contaminated, the BWWB spokesman Rick Jackson says “customers should not be concerned.”
The lawsuit, filed in November, contends that the chemical companies that manufacture toxic manmade chemicals known as PFAS should pay back the amount that the water works has spent and will continue to spend to remove the PFAS from the drinking water.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) these chemicals can cause several negative health effects on humans and animals including cancer and stunted development.
The case was filed in the U.S. District Court in Charleston, S.C.
BWWB said in their filing that over two dozen large chemical manufacturers are responsible for the contamination after taking part in the sale of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) for firefighter use that contained PFAS.
When Birmingham firefighters used AFFF to extinguish fires it ran off into the ground and contaminated the groundwater, according to BWWB’s legal filing.
Birmingham Fire Department declined a request to comment.
“Defendants have each designed, marketed, developed, manufactured, distributed, released, trained users on, produced instructional materials for, sold, and/or otherwise handled and/or used AFFF containing PFAS, in such a way as to cause environmental and economic injuries, contamination and unlawful incursion onto the Plaintiff’s land, surface and subsurface soil, sediment, natural resources, and real property,” reads the BWWB filing from November.
The manufacturers listed in the case span nationwide and include 3M, AGC Chemicals Americas, Inc., Trussville’s Amerex Corporation, Archroma U.S. Inc., Arkema, Inc., Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, Carrier Global Corporation, ChemDesign Products, Inc., Chemguard, Inc., Chemicals, Inc., Chemours Company FC, LLC, Chubb Fire, Ltd., Clariant Corporation, Corteva, Inc., Deepwater Chemicals, Inc., Du Pont de Nemours Inc., Dynax Corporation, Kidde-Fenwal, Inc., Kidde P.L.C., Inc, Nation Ford Chemical Company, National Foam, Inc., Chemours Company, Tyco Fire Products, LP, United Technologies Corporation, and UTC Fire & Security Americas Corporation, Inc.
“Exposure to Defendants’ AFFF has been linked to serious medical conditions including, but not limited to, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, liver cancer, testicular tumors, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, bladder cancer, thyroid disease, and infertility,” the BWWB suit contends.
“Plaintiff seeks to recover the costs of remediating the contamination, restoring its contaminated drinking water systems that have been, and continue to be, contaminated by PFOS and PFOA related to the manufacture and use of AFFF, and the costs of treating the water produced by the subject wells to remove the PFOS and PFOA.”
Despite the allegations in the lawsuit, however, the most recent BWWB meeting agenda had the utility considering whether to drop the three-month old federal case.
BWWB meeting documents said that none of their water treatment facilities tested above EPA or Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) standards.
But at the beginning of the meeting, the item to drop the case was removed from the agenda. Exactly why is unclear.
Asked about that sequence of events, Jackson, the utility’s spokesman wrote in an email to the Lede that “BWW does not discuss pending litigation. This lawsuit is under review by the board of directors. As it relates to our water quality, our customers should not be concerned.
“We apply a variety of water treatment technologies that are fully effective in removing a wide spectrum of contaminants and achieving every single ADEM and U.S. EPA regulation applicable to drinking water. To date, we have detected no PFAS chemicals in any of our four plants’ finished water above the U.S. EPA’s or ADEM’s reporting levels.”
Jackson said that BWWB “is committed to delivering the highest quality potable water to our customers. We are constantly evaluating new and innovative advancements to ensure the highest quality while also maintaining focus on affordability. BWW is closely monitoring U.S. EPA’s evolving guidance on PFAS and all other contaminants of concern and is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to continue to remain in full compliance with all ADEM and U.S. EPA standards.”
Not all directors of the BWWB believe the suit should be dropped.
BWWB director George Munchus said that, in his opinion, the board should continue pursuing the federal case.
“It would be a travesty of basic local customer business and economic development justice for any Director to vote to dismiss such a lawsuit at this moment in time,” Munchus said in an email to the Lede. “The lawsuit is going to settle as public policy is against these large chemical manufacturers.”
3M has been the only manufacturer to respond to requests for comment so far.
“3M acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS — including AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) — and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship,” wrote 3M Communications Manager Grant Thompson in an email to the Lede. “AFFF was a critical tool developed to serve an important need for military service members and other responders facing high hazard, potentially life-threatening challenges.”
The Jefferson County Commission, which oversees the sewer service for county residents, is apparently unaware of the contamination, according to Commissioner Sheila Tyson.
“I have not heard of water being contaminated,” said Tyson. “If the water has been contaminated, shouldn’t they notify us? Especially representatives for Jefferson County because they’re collecting sewer money for us. Shouldn’t they notify the citizens?”
PFAS have been identified as a statewide problem by the EPA and just two weeks ago the agency announced an additional $52.6 million would be dedicated to removing chemical contaminants from Alabama’s water according to a report from AL.com’s Dennis Pillion.
“I am thrilled that the Environmental Protection Agency is providing over $52 million to Alabama communities to expand access to clean water in our rural and underserved communities,” U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell said in a news release according to Pillion. “I was proud to vote for President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law because grant programs like this will make a world of difference in the lives of Alabamians.
“Every American deserves access to safe and clean water, and this investment is a transformative step forward,” Sewell said.
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