PFOA Water Poisoning and the Dairy Industry
January 2, 2020 | Environmental Litigation
Once toxins like polyfluoroalkyl substances leech into local water supplies, the people who drink the tainted water are not the only ones adversely affected.
Mark Schaap, a dairy farmer in New Mexico, became concerned when a local Air Force base advised him and his family not to drink the water.
Officials believed that years of PFOA contamination had polluted well water. “Milk is 90 percent water,” he thought. Some other area dairy farmers have installed expensive filters on their land.
But Schaap cannot afford the equipment and it is not guaranteed to work. He has already laid off over two dozen workers and his 4,000-head herd of cows faces an uncertain future.
The Department of Agriculture recently told Schaap that if the PFOA level is low enough, he might be able to sell the cows for meat. His main goal is to avoid euthanizing them.
PFOA’s Indirect Effects
Many man-made environmental toxins which are dumped into the water, such as lead and other heavy metals, only affect people.
These forms of metallosis, or metal poisoning, almost always come from plumbing and other drinking water fixtures.
But PFOA is different. Beginning in the 1940s, DuPont and other companies used PFOA, which is also known as PFAS and GenX, in a multitude of consumer and industrial products.
Stain-resistant carpet and advanced fire fighting foam, like the stuff used to suppress jet engine fires at airports, contained high levels of PFOA.
In the early 1960s, DuPont scientists learned that PFOA increased animals’ liver sizes. Additionally, one of the first major PFOA lawsuits involved a West Virginia cattle farm.
According to graphic video evidence presented at trial, the landowner removed “two dead deer and two dead cattle from this ripple. . .The blood ran out of their noses and out of their mouths.”
There are several reasons PFOA is so dangerous in animals. Much like asbestos, another common environmental toxin, there is no safe PFOA exposure level.
Even a few parts per billion (as opposed to parts per million) can cause the health effects listed below. Moreover, humans have at least some genetic resistance to such toxins; animals have none.
Finally, PFOA has no half life. Once it enters the body, it is always there and always potent.
Health Effects of PFOA
As particles accumulate inside the body for several decades, the likelihood of serious health problems increases. Some of these effects include:
- Low birth weight,
- Immune system deficiencies,
- Thyroid issues, and
- Liver or testicular cancer.
Many of these effects, such as immune system deficiencies, are not terribly harmful by themselves. But, they raise the possibility of serious injury from another source, such as a bacterial infection.
In these situations, DuPont or the other polluting company might be legally responsible for damages, even though the company had nothing to do with the subsequent event.
If the subsequent injury was a foreseeable result of the initial poisoning, liability may attach, as outlined below.
Additionally, many of these conditions are dormant for many years. By that time, the two-year statute of limitations has long since passed.
However, victims of latent PFOA-related illnesses might still have legal options, because of the delayed discovery rule.
Assume Wanda was exposed to PFOA-contaminated water beginning in 2010. In 2020, she develops pancreatic cancer.
Normally, the statute of limitations would have expired in 2012. However, since she did not discover the full extent of her illness until much later, the statute of limitations does not run until 2022.
These same rules apply when PFOA hurts animals. The main difference is that both the animals and the owners are victims in these situations.
Your Claim for Damages
Because of the size and scope of these injuries, victims usually have several legal options in these situations.
A dangerous product action is pone possibility. Generally, companies are strictly liable for the damages their dangerous goods, or their dangerous manufacturing practices, cause.
The company’s negligence, or lack thereof, is irrelevant. Victim/plaintiffs need only establish cause.
Causation is easier to establish in New York than it is in some other jurisdictions. Courts in the Empire State use a more victim-friendly test to screen proposed expert witnesses.
Moreover, while negligence is not relevant in terms of liability, it is relevant in terms of damages.
The fact that companies ignored PFOA’s harmful effects for so many years often prompts jurors to award substantial punitive damages in these cases.
Alternatively, a public nuisance claim might be available.
This is the same theory which Napoli Law attorneys have used successfully in some other situations, such as the 1990s fen-phen weight loss drug settlement.
Typically, causation is a bit easier to establish in these matters. However, a public nuisance claim has a lot of moving parts.
Your attorney will carefully go over all the pros and cons of each approach before embarking on a course of action. In all claims, in addition to the aforementioned punitive damages, compensatory damages are available.
These damages usually include money for economic losses, such as property damage, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
PFOA in the water does not only hurt people. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in injury cases.
How Can We Help?
Do you need assistance with a legal matter? Our attorneys have the experience needed to guide you in the right direction.