A law firm associated with longtime consumer advocate Erin Brockovich has filed a water contamination lawsuit against a firefighting foam manufacturer and five other defendants in a case involving potentially hundreds of former and current residents of Montgomery and Bucks counties.
The suit filed Friday claims the foam used on military bases, including the shuttered Willow Grove Naval Air Station and current day Horsham Air Guard Station, led to contamination of surrounding water supplies for residents.
“For years, residents living near military bases in eastern Pennsylvania were unknowingly exposed to dangerous chemicals in their drinking water,” said Robin Greenwald, head of the Environmental and Consumer Protection Unit at Weitz & Luxenberg. “With this lawsuit, we are fighting to ensure that the companies who manufactured and marketed products containing these chemicals – and put their profits ahead of public health in the process – are brought to justice for their wrongdoing.”
Concerns about the drinking water first went mainstream in May after the EPA issued new guidelines showing elevated levels of the cancer-causing chemicals PFOA or PFOS in Horsham, Warrington and Warminster.
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Phila., at the time called for a congressional hearing into allegations of contaminated groundwater.
The defendants named in the lawsuit are: 3M; Angus Fire, The Ansul Company, Buckeye Fire Protection Company, Chemguard and National Foam.
The suit claims that the six defendants, as manufacturers of the firefighting foam, knew or should have known that the inclusion of PFOs and other similar chemicals in the foam would present a risk to human health and the environment. And yet, the suit alleges, none of the companies issued any warnings.
According to Weitz & Luxenberg, testing for PFOs conducted in 2014 and 2015 detected levels as high as 1,600 parts per trillion (PPT). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says an acceptable limit for PFOs in a water supply is 70 PPT or less.
“In Pennsylvania, big business once again disregarded public health in favor of boosting their bottom line,” said Brockovich in a release Friday. “We need to send the message that these corporations cannot put profits ahead of people’s health; this lawsuit is intended to remedy that wrong.”
When Weitz & Luxenberg first started investigating claims of people who once lived or currently live in the area of the Willow Grove and Horsham military installations, some residents like Valeria Secrease took immediate solace in knowing a search for answers was finally under way.
“It feels like we won, just a small thing,” Secrease said earlier this summer.
Secrease helps run a private Facebook group of people who worked at Willow Grove Naval Air Station and want to know if their cancer or life-threatening ailments are connected to the water on the base.
The group has swelled to more than 1,600, many of whom have either suffered health issues themselves or lost a loved one. Secrease worked on the base for more than 25 years and has been living with malignant melanoma for the last two decades.
"There are nights I don’t sleep and it goes over and over in my mind about the people who have passed and the people who have suffered and the women who are still crying over losing their husbands,” Secrease told NBC10.com. “The joy I feel is not for myself, but for all the rest of the people who have been suffering. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll get some kind of closure.”
Weitz & Luxenberg has conducted similar investigations in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire. Recently, the firm filed a federal class action lawsuit against a plastics company for its role in PFOA water contamination in Hoosick Falls, NY.
"Communities across our country are realizing that the source of life – water – could in fact be making them seriously ill,” Brockovich said when Weitz & Luxenberg first began looking at the Willow Grove and Horsham case in June. "It is time to give this community a voice and make sure those responsible are held accountable for this issue.”