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Jun 26, 2018 2:27 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

State Joins Deluge Of Lawsuits Over Chemical Contamination Of Drinking Water

Firefighters spraying fire-suppressing foam during a drill in Wainscott in 2000. Chemicals in firefighting foams have been fingered as a possible cause of chemical contamination of groundwater throughout Long Island.  Michael Wright
Jun 26, 2018 3:44 PM

New York State last week joined a growing list of municipalities and others suing a group of manufacturers of firefighting foams that are being blamed for chemical contamination of groundwater supplies.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday, June 20, that the state would file suit against six companies—most notably the manufacturing giant 3M—that manufactured fire-suppressant foams that contained the chemicals known as PFOS and PFOA.

The suit, like many others making the same claims, says that the companies knew or should have known that the firefighting foams would release PFOS and PFOA into groundwater supplies, and that the chemicals could be harmful to human health.

“By taking necessary legal action against these companies,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement on the lawsuit, “we are sending a clear message that we will do everything in our power to protect New Yorkers.”

“The conduct of these manufacturers caused widespread contamination of our drinking water and our environment—and jeopardized the health of tens of thousands of New Yorkers,” State Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in the state announcement. “My office will hold these companies accountable for endangering the health of New Yorkers, including forcing them to fully repay the state for cleaning up the toxic mess they created.”

The Suffolk County Water Authority filed a similar lawsuit against many of the same companies last December, and a Wainscott homeowner, Kim Shipman, filed a class-action suit against a similar list of defendants on behalf of all residents of Wainscott in March.

The defendants in all the lawsuits are similar. The state, SCWA and Ms. Shipman’s lawsuits all name 3M, Buckeye Fire Equipment, Chemguard Inc. and National Foam as defendants. Tyco Fire Products, Angus Fire, the Ansul Company and Kidde-Fenwal Inc. also are named in the suits.

In the last 12 months, PFOS and PFOA have been found in drinking water wells in Westhampton, Sagaponack, Hampton Bays and Wainscott.

East Hampton Town Councilman Jeffrey Bragman, who is an attorney, said this week that he has recommended that the town move to join the SCWA lawsuit, for the sake of expediency as a way to ensure it has an avenue to recoup some of the millions in costs it is incurring because of the Wainscott contamination.

The town has pledged to borrow some $24 million to connect every house in southern Wainscott to SCWA water mains later this year and has set aside $400,000 to reimburse any homeowners who install point-of-entry filtration systems in the interim.

The source of the contamination in Wainscott is still under investigation by the State Department of Environmental Conservation, but firefighting foams stored at East Hampton Airport and used in firefighter training exercises on surrounding properties have been fingered as a possible cause. The town owns the airport and most of the industrial properties that ring the airport itself.

The town is also a defendant in the class-action suit filed by Ms. Shipman.

“Intervening is an easier process than launching our own lawsuit and enables us to take advantage of the legal steps the lead plaintiffs make and in the event of a judgment or settlement, we can be involved,” Mr. Bragman said. “We clearly are facing some significant damages here.”

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