New York State is suing six manufacturers of discredited firefighting foams. The action, filed in the State supreme court yesterday, seeks to hold the companies liable for contamination that the toxins, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), caused to soil and water in the vicinity of four airports.
The foams were manufactured and sold for a period of about 40 years, from the 1960s to 2000s, as extinguishing agents for flammable liquids released from aircraft. PFOS and PFOA accumulate and persist in the environment and have been found to cause severe harm to humans, wildlife and fish.
New York State’s suit alleges that the six companies should have known this fact as early as the 1970s. One of the subject companies has already paid a fine to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to acknowledge that it failed to disclose internal studies dating back to that era, which pointed to potential public health and environmental hazards related to the chemical formulas.
The State is asking, at minimum, for compensation of the USD $39 million it has spent thus far to respond to the risk in the affected areas. An accompanying release from the New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood tallies the components of those costs.
“Among other things, the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) or DOH (Department of Health) have tested public and private drinking water sources, groundwater, wildlife and other resources in the surrounding areas for contamination. Consistent with the results, the DOH has issued a ‘catch and release’ advisory to warn people about contaminated fish. DEC has also provided water treatment systems for public or private drinking sources and bottled water or connections to uncontaminated drinking water sources for several communities. The agencies have also communicated with members of affected communities through public notices, public hearings and door-to-door home visits when appropriate. DOH also has, when appropriate, offered blood sampling for people living in some affected communities,” it states.
The suit is also asking the court to award punitive damages, which would be determined at trial. New York is the first U.S. state to pursue legal action related to the firefighting foams.
“Only through our own diligence do we now know that the very products used decades ago to promote public safety, contained chemicals that pose a threat to public health,” observes New York Health Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker.