Specifically, the lawsuit asserts that chemicals known to be carcinogens that go into firefighting suppressant agents were sold to the US Navy, and used on the bases and washed down drains, mixing with ground and surface water, contaminating the surrounding communities.
The complaint is filed by a number of residents living in the Pennsylvania towns of Horsham, Warrington, Warminster and Hatboro. They assert that 3M and other defendants manufactured and sold without proper warning, a fire retardant known as aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, containing perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate, called "toxic surfactants," which can cause numerous and serious health issues. Further, the presence of these chemicals in the drinking water can devalue property.
The plaintiffs claim the defendants knew of the dangerous nature of the products they were making and selling: "Nonetheless, defendants marketed and sold their products with the full knowledge that large quantities of toxic surfactant-laden AFFF would be used in training exercises and in emergency situations in such a manner that the dangerous chemicals would be introduced, in large quantities, into the environment," they said in the complaint.
The plaintiffs state that 3M, Angus Fire, The Ansul Co., Buckeye Fire Equipment Co., Chemguard and National Foam Inc. sold the firefighting suppressant agent to the Navy for use on ships and at military bases, including the former Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Horsham and the former Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster. However, the complaint states, the companies failed to provide adequate warning about the related health and safety concerns.
The lawsuit claims that the local population was exposed to these chemical for years and that it wasn’t until they were informed by environmental officials that the concentrations of the PFOS and PFOA were well above the safe drinking levels that they were aware they were drinking contaminated water.
PFOS and PFOA exposure is associated with increased risk of testicular and kidney cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension, as well as other conditions, according to the suit. Injuries can arise months or years after exposure, the complaint states.
The residents seek certification of four different subclasses: 1) current property owners who obtained drinking water from the affected municipal utilities, 2) those who obtained drinking water from private wells, 3) nonproperty owners who obtained their drinking water from either the utilities or private wells; and 4) those who worked on the bases.
The plaintiffs are represented by John M. Broaddus, Robin L. Greenwald and Donald A. Soutar of Weitz & Luxenberg. The case is Bates et al. v. The 3M Co. et al., case number 2:16-cv-04961, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.