A company known for mixing and testing fire-fighting foam with “forever chemicals” in northeast Wisconsin settled with hundreds of homeowners Thursday morning over contamination in private drinking fountains.
According to attorney Paul Napoli of Napoli Shkolnik law firm, Tyco Fire Products, a subsidiary of Johnson Controls, has settled a class action lawsuit involving 271 households for $ 17.5 million. The lawsuit also names Chemguard Inc. and ChemDesign Inc., according to a press release from attorneys representing Peshtigo’s community members.
The settlement will provide $ 15 million for class-wide claims such as property damage and $ 2.5 million for individuals diagnosed with testicular cancer, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, and preeclampsia.
“This settlement is a significant step in victims’ efforts to ensure fair compensation to those affected by PFAS (aqueous film-forming foam) contamination,” Napoli said in the press release. “But there is still a lot to be done as we proceed.” to try to hold the manufacturers of these chemicals responsible for the damage they have caused individuals and the environment. ”
Napoli represents communities across the country battling fire foam pollution along with Rob Bilott of Taft Stettinius & Hollister, who featured in the 2019 film Dark Waters about the discovery of PFAS contamination sickening a community in West Virginia , time report played a prominent role.
The settlement was presented early Thursday morning to Justice Richard B. Gergel of the South Carolina District Court, which has jurisdiction over cases involving PFAS contamination from firefighting foam.
The class action lawsuit was originally filed in December 2018 by Joan and Richard Campbell of Peshtigo, whose private well was contaminated by PFAS.
Tyco, along with the other named defendants, has denied any wrongdoing in the case, the press release said.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of man-made chemicals that are used in products such as clothing and carpet, non-stick cookware, packaging, and fire-fighting foam because of their water and dirt repellent properties.
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The chemicals are persistent and remain in the environment as well as in the human body over time. The build-up of chemicals in the body has been linked to cancer, studies have shown, or to other harmful effects. The chemicals have also appeared in fish and deer, for which the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has issued recommendations.
PFAS were found in water across the state, including 52 fires where PFAS-containing foam was used to extinguish the flames, landfills and overflow points.
The worst contamination in the state is in Marinette and Peshtigo, which originated in the vicinity of the Tyco Fire Products test facility that had years of fire-fighting foam testing before the practice ended in 2017.
The contamination in Marinette and Peshtigo requires remediation and the supply of drinking water to several homeowners who can no longer safely consume water from their wells. In 2019, Tyco’s parent company Johnson Controls announced it had allocated $ 140 million to clean up operations.
Tyco / Johnson Controls was also referred to the Justice Department by the DNR. The company waited four years to report the release of dangerous chemicals at its Marinette facility. This release resulted in some residents unknowingly drinking contaminated water.
More recently, the company has struggled against the DNR after the agency called for testing more private wells in the Peshtigo area. The company said the DNR had not worked to identify other parties who could be responsible for the contamination. The DNR paid for the tests late last year, and PFAS were found in wells, some in elevated concentrations.
Tyco isn’t the first company to set up shop
Tycos settlement in northeast Wisconsin is not the first PFAS-related settlement. In 2017, DuPont and Chemours resolved 3,550 lawsuits for $ 670.7 million related to contamination at a West Virginia facility operated first by DuPont and later by Chemours, according to a report by Delaware Online.
The contamination there came from PFOA, one of the best-researched PFAS compounds. The compound was used to create Teflon – a non-stick coating used on products including saucepans – that was released into the water and air surrounding the plant.
According to Delaware Online, DuPont has also settled other cases, including another settlement with Kenneth Vigneron in 2017 who claimed PFOA exposure caused his kidney cancer. Vigneron lived miles from the West Virginia plant and received punitive damages of $ 10.5 million and $ 2 million in damages.
Laura Schulte can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura.