PFOA Water Poisoning In Wainscott, New York
In October 2017, Suffolk County health officials first discovered high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and other dangerous chemicals in drinking water wells near the East Hampton Airport. During a January 2018 follow-up inspection, officials became even more alarmed at the scope of the problem. They advised area residents with private wells to use bottled water for cooking, cleaning, and consumption.
Most probably, the PFOA leaked into the groundwater from firefighting foam at the airport. Officials there have admitted that they used and stored the PFOA-laced product. This chemical has been linked with a number of serious health problems, but many of the responsible polluters have either denied fault altogether or have refused to pay for cleanup costs.
In times like these, the aggressive team at Napoli Shkolnik springs into action. Our lawyers represent both individual families who were exposed to dangerous chemicals in their water as well as the local governments forced to pay cleanup costs out of treasuries that might have been already close to empty. All these victims deserve financial compensation for their losses and justice for their injuries, and we use our deep, nationwide network of lawyers and experts to achieve both these goals.
What is PFOA?
3M scientists first synthesized PFOA in the 1940s. Due to its ability to form a barrier between two substances, extreme stability, and low cost, it became a highly-prized staple in many consumer and industrial products. The list includes:
- Teflon (PFOA is used in the production process but not in the product itself, which is why the manufacturer touts it as “PFOA-Free”),
- Stainmaster carpet,
- Take-out food containers,
- Many cosmetics, and
- Industrial firefighting foam.
Almost everyone in the United States has been exposed to PFOA at one time or another. At extremely low levels, such as forty or fifty parts per trillion, the chemical is safe. At higher levels, exposure often causes some or all of the conditions listed below.
PFOA and Groundwater Supplies
Hopefully most municipal airports never have serious crashes and fires. That’s especially true at facilities like East Hampton Airport that handle mostly helicopter and propeller-drive aircraft traffic. Nevertheless, believing that it’s better to be safe than sorry, these airports store vast amounts of firefighting foam which is usually only used in high-intensity blazes, like jet engines and oil wells.
Unfortunately for area residents, the foam which the airport stored was not safe. Since the harms of PFOA have been well-documented since at least the 1960s, airport officials had a duty to make the foam safe, through actions such as:
- An Alternative Foam: fluorine-free firefighting foams are available, but they are expensive and not as plentiful. Nevertheless, due to PFOA’s known dangers, East Hampton and some of the other facilities which used Aqueous Film-Forming Foam Concentrates should have used something else.
- More Care During Storage: Hordes of tiny PFOA particles can escape into groundwater if there is even a microscopic hairline crack in a storage tank. The property owners arguably have a duty to place special linings in these tanks to prevent leaks and frequently inspect them to check for cracks.
Stable PFOA remains in the groundwater for several decades or even longer, creating a high risk of serious injury.
The Harms of PFOA
Prior to 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency considered PFOA levels under 400 parts per trillion to be safe. But based on new research, the agency revised that number to 70 parts per trillion, resulting in a rash of such incidents. This research conclusively links PFOA to a number of chronic and serious health problems, including:
- Birth Defects: Infants, pregnant mothers, and nursing mothers are particularly susceptible to groundwater poisoning. Specifically, PFOA is associated with low birth weight, a condition that often causes very serious respiratory and other problems. The chemical may also cause skeletal defects and other serious health issues.
- Cancer: PFOA alters the cellular structure in the kidneys and testicals, often causing cancer in these areas.
- Tissue Damage: Human organs are simply not designed to process harsh man-made chemicals like PFOA, which is why exposure victims often suffer from various forms of kidney disease.
- Immune System Defects: The same cellular alterations that affect the kidneys and reproductive organs also affect antibodies and overall immunity, so PFOA exposure victims are highly susceptible to infectious diseases and these conditions are worse than they would have been otherwise.
A number of peer-reviewed studies have also linked high PFOA levels with thyroid disease, high cholesterol, and other chronic conditions.
The harms extend beyond these serious, and sometimes fatal, medical conditions. Area groundwater contamination often greatly lowers property values. Additionally, many people leave the area entirely, so the local taxing authorities must raise property and other taxes on the families who remain behind.
Legal Remedies Available
As mentioned earlier, the leadership at East Hampton Airport arguably neglected its duty to keep PFOA out of the groundwater. If a jury determines that this lack of care substantially caused the victim/plaintiff’s injuries, the defendant must pay compensation for:
- Economic losses, such as lower property values and medical bills, as well as
- Non-economic losses, including pain and suffering, loss of consortium (companionship), emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment in life.
Moreover, in many environmental tort cases, juries usually award significant punitive damages. As long as chemical companies, airport executives, and other such groups place profits before people, area residents will always be at risk. Punitive damages stop this cycle, giving victims justice in addition to financial compensation.
Groundwater poisoning in Long Island is much more widespread than originally thought. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC today, because you have a limited amount of time to act.