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North Carolina AG sues companies over alleged PFAS contamination from firefighting foam

Firefighters use hose to tame large fire
creative commons
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U.S. Navy / Public Domain

Lawsuits filed by North Carolina's attorney general against 14 manufacturers of a fire suppressant claim the makers caused a public nuisance, created a design defect, failed to warn their customers and fraudulently transferred corporate assets to shield their profits, a news release said Thursday.

Attorney General Josh Stein filed four lawsuits which named 3M, Corteva, and DuPont, among others. In the lawsuit, Stein is asking the court to require the manufacturers to pay for investigations to determine the extent of the damage, clean up the damage, replace water treatment systems and wells, restore damaged natural resources and to monitor water quality.

“These companies made and sold firefighting foam with dangerous forever chemicals to our firefighters, military servicemembers, and first responders, long after they knew or should have known how harmful this foam was,” Stein said in the news release. “As a result, forever chemicals have seeped into our soil and groundwater and put people’s health at risk – all so these chemical companies could line their pockets. It’s wrong."

DuPont issued a statement saying it has never made AFFF and called the complaints “the latest example of DuPont being improperly named in litigation.” A 3M statement said the company acted responsibly with products containing PFAS and "will vigorously defend our record of environmental stewardship.”

Corteva did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The lawsuits target Aqueous Film Forming Foam, a fire suppressant used widely by firefighters, members of the military and other first responders. The legal action points specifically to two sites in Charlotte, a county airport and a U.S. Air Force base.

AFFF is designed to be mixed with water and sprayed liberally, which leads to contamination of soil, groundwater and natural resources, Stein said. In the lawsuits, the attorney general alleges that AFFF manufacturers knew or should have known about the toxic nature of PFAS chemicals and how they harmed people, wildlife, and the environment, but continued to manufacture, market, and sell their products in North Carolina and elsewhere while concealing the risks.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency described PFAS on its website as widely used, long lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time. Because of their use and persistence in the environment, PFAS are found in human and animal blood, and in low levels in a variety of food products and in the environment, the EPA says.

At Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, tests at the Air National Guard Base found PFAS in the groundwater at levels thousands of times in excess of the EPA's health advisory level, the news release said. Also, testing at the Charlotte Police and Fire Training Academy, found PFAS compounds at 17 different on-site groundwater wells with levels up to 1,800 times beyond EPA’s level.

“Every day, we learn more about this toxic class of chemicals,” said Tom Brewer, president of Charlotte International Association of Fire Fighters Local 660, in the news release. “The research and data are clear – these deadly chemicals must be removed from the firefighters’ environment."

Testing at Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base in eastern North Carolina showed PFAS concentrations in the groundwater at levels thousands of times beyond EPA’s health advisory level. At Stanly County Airport, which also has an Air National Guard Base, testing showed excessive PFAS in the soil, sediment, and groundwater, the news release said.

Health problems associated with PFAS include increased risks of cancer, high blood pressure, damage to immune systems, and harm to fetal development.

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