Beginning in the 1950s, companies like Imperial Chemicals and DuPont Chemicals began peddling trichloroethylene (TCE), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and other chemicals to the U.S. government. Corporate suits pitched TCE, which was also a surgical anesthetic, as an effective machine degreaser. PFOA-laced firefighting foam, insisted DuPont executives, was the only substance that could control raging jet fuel fires.
The public health fallout was severe. Today, over one hundred of the Superfund sites in America are former military bases. Pease Air Force Base (later Pease Air National Guard Base) in New Hampshire is one of the worst places. Its groundwater has dangerously-high levels of TCE, PFOA, and other harmful chemicals. It is unclear whether company officials continued to sell these chemicals even though they were aware of the danger or if they simply turned a blind eye toward the potential hazards. Either way, these firms are now legally responsible for the substantial damages these victims sustained.
Paul J. Napoli has dedicated most of his professional career to fighting for victims like the ones at Pease AFB. Because of that experience and dedication, the professionals at Napoli Law know what it takes to build a winning case. We also understand that, many times, these cases are won or lost during settlement negotiations. So, we approach this aspect of the case with equal passion and vigor. As a result of these efforts, our clients often get more than they ask or expect.
Chemical Use at Pease AFB
TCE is one of the most powerful chemicals that has ever been developed. It’s both an industrial solvent and a surgical antiseptic. Mechanics at Pease AFB probably began using TCE in the 1950s. TCE proved effective at degreasing metal parts. Not too many other chemicals could do this job, especially in high-use environments like air force bases.
TCE’s use declined for a brief period in the 1960s. But the increasing sophistication of military airplanes in the 1970s meant that mechanics used more and more TCE. Additionally, TCE’s main alternative, a chemical known as 1,1,1-trichloroethane, fell into disuse after the 1987 Montreal Protocol declared that it harmed the ozone layer.
As a result, TCE use began rising again. That move lead to a host of public health problems, as outlined below.
PFOA is an extremely stable chemical that forms a long-lasting barrier between two substances. So, it’s used in a large number of consumer products, especially things like stain-resistant carpet and nonstick cookware. PFOA has industrial uses as well. Facilities like airports and air force bases use firefighting foam which contains PFOA.
Like many chemicals, PFOA almost inevitably seeps into the groundwater, especially if it’s used over a long period of time. Furthermore, since it’s such a stable chemical, it remains in that water, and in the human body, for long periods of time.
Harmful Effects of TCE and PFOA
According to the Centers for Disease Control, high TCE levels are present in over two-thirds of the hazardous waste sites in the country. Like PFOA, it taints the groundwater. Unlike PFOA, TCE evaporates quickly. So, exposure is possible just because a person is in the area. Furthermore, trichloroethylene sometimes evaporates through the soil and then contaminates the air inside nearby buildings. This process is called vapor intrusion.
The human liver can process some TCE and convert it into harmless chemicals. But the liver quickly becomes overwhelmed and trichloroethylene particles then build up quickly inside the bloodstream, creating issues like:
- Kidney cancer,
- Liver failure,
- Diminished mental capacity, and
- Irregular heartbeat.
Because TCE is also an anesthetic, it affects the brain in other ways as well. Some symptoms include headaches, weakness, dizziness, blurred vision, and drowsiness. Symptoms like these make it difficult or impossible for victims to function at work, at school, and at home.
These problems were well-documented as early as the 1970s. PFOA’s history goes back even further. As early as the 1960s, DuPont Chemical, which was perfluorooctanoic acid’s primary manufacturer, knew that the substance caused a number of serious conditions in the human body, including:
- Testicular cancer,
- Birth injuries,
- Liver damage, and
- Thyroid disease.
As is the case with so many other environmental torts, PFOA exposure is particularly harmful to young children and older adults.
Legal Remedies Available
So far, the Air Force has spent about $50 million trying to clean up the chemical spills at the former Pease AFB. The government has assured area residents that the environment is clean, but many people aren’t convinced. They point to a spike in brain cancer cases in nearby Portsmouth as well as elevated PFOA levels in many groundwater wells.
The aforementioned $50 million is not nearly enough to compensate victims. That’s only the amount of money needed to stop further contamination. Chemical exposure victims must also deal with staggering medical bills, large amounts of lost wages, and other direct losses. There are intangible damages as well, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment in life.
To obtain the compensation and justice these victims deserve, Paul J. Napoli and his team have several legal options. A negligence case is a straightforward claim for damages, but the government can raise a number of effective defenses. Public nuisance claims have fewer defenses, but they have a lot of moving parts. After a thorough consultation, we decide on an individual course of action.
Industrial chemicals like PFOA and TCE basically transform an area’s soil, water, and air into toxins. 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 these cases.