Horsham, Warminster and Warrington will seek millions of dollars in damages from firefighting foam manufacturers whose products they say contaminated drinking water.
Two is company, three’s a crowd?
The manufacturers of firefighting foam may feel a little crowded, as all three water authorities impacted by PFAS drinking water contamination in Bucks and Montgomery counties are now suing them over the issue.
The Warminster Municipal Authority, the Horsham Water and Sewer Authority, and Warrington all initiated legal proceedings against half a dozen firefighting foam manufacturers this week. Anapol Weiss, a Philadelphia-based law firm, is representing all three plaintiffs.
Listed as defendants are the 3M Co. of Minnesota, the Buckeye Fire Protection Co. of North Carolina, National Foam Inc. of West Chester, and Chemguard, Ansul, and Tyco Fire Products, all of Wisconsin. Although the three suits are separate, Larry Cohan, lead Anapol Weiss attorney on the cases, said they take a similar tack. Cohan will be joined on the case by his son and fellow Anapol Weiss attorney, Josh Cohan.
“These local governments have sustained enormous (financial) losses,” Larry Cohan said. “That problem relates directly to these manufacturers, selling a product that they certainly knew long before was potentially hazardous to health.”
The companies all historically produced aqueous film-forming foam, a specialty material widely used by the military, civilian airports and some other private industries to snuff out petrochemical fires. The foams also contained chemicals called perfluorinated compounds, or PFAS, which have been found to be toxic.
The subject of investigation by this news organization, PFAS chemicals do not break down in the environment and quickly spread through and persist in soil and water. The foams were used at area military bases from the early 1970s into the 2010s, before being discovered in area groundwater over the past eight years. The Horsham, Warrington and Warminster water authorities all previously relied on groundwater to provide drinking water to approximately 70,000 combined customers.
Due to the contamination, the water systems were forced to close approximately 18 water wells in 2014 and 2016. The three authorities then implemented “zero tolerance” plans to remove the chemicals in their water system to nondetectable levels. As the military only agreed to pay to filter wells contaminated above a safety limit recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency, the water authorities were on the hook to pay for the plans, which involved buying large quantities of water from the North Wales Water Authority.
Warminster is currently paying about $2.5 million extra a year, while Horsham is paying about $1.2 million, which it passes through to customers as an average surcharge of $73.48. Warrington projects paying about $1.8 million total in 2018 and 2019, said water and sewer director Christian Jones. Cohan said his firm and the water authorities have not yet totaled an exact amount of alleged damages but that it will be “many millions” of dollars.
The financial arrangements for all three suits are contingent fee, meaning the water authorities pay no money unless the lawsuits are successful in obtaining awards or settlements.
Through its investigation of the contamination, this news organization obtained several documents that showed some of the foam manufacturers discussing concerns about the firefighting foams in 2001. At a meeting of a firefighting products industry group that year, a 3M representative said the company was shutting down its perfluorochemical department due to concern about the chemicals’ “proven persistence pervasiveness, and toxicity.” Records show representatives from Ansul, Tyco, Chemguard, and National Foam were in attendance.
“The discovery in the latest litigation around the country has already begun to reveal that (the manufacturers) had knowledge of the hazards of their product many years ago,” Cohan alleged.
The foam manufacturers are also subject to numerous suits from local private citizens. Those cases are still progressing through the courts.
This news organization contacted the manufacturers for comment early Thursday afternoon and did not receive any immediate responses.