2019 Toxic Chemicals Found in Birmingham Water
Posted in Personal Injury on February 11, 2019.
The current leader of the U.S. EPA, Andrew Wheeler, is under pressure to release a detailed response to a concerning increase in per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs, in water systems around the county. The two most common PFAs, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) were commonly used substances in the following commonly used household items:
- Teflon coating,
- Firefighting foams
- Waterproof clothing
Public health officials find the compounds most commonly near airports and military facilities. Wheeler has yet to release the plan’s details to address the PFA increases in water supplies, but some members of Congress from both sides of the aisle expressed concern, saying it does not go far enough to protect citizens.
Is Alabama at Risk?
3M was previously a large manufacturer of both PFOA and PFOS, using it for decades at the facility located in Decatur on the Tennessee River. Though it voluntarily stopped the use of PFOA and PFOS, the company still faces multiple allegations of personal injury related to contamination of drinking water. Attorneys for 3M state that the concentration of PFAs in the environment do not pose a threat to public health, and the company has not used PFAs in their products since 2002.
Unfortunately, PFAs are resistant to breakdown and can remain in the local water supply for decades. They also build up over time in tissue, which can pose a risk of cancer. Some research suggests that every person tested has some concentration of these chemicals in their bloodstream.
3M has already paid for the use of its PFAs, with some $1.5 billion in payouts to those suffering the consequences of PFA exposure. Could the government be next?
Who Is Liable for PFA Injuries?
Some analysts believe that the Department of Defense, private companies like 3M, and the Environmental Protection Agency could face billions of dollars in potential lawsuits if they do not properly address the use and elimination of PFAs in water supplies around the country.
In 2016, the EPA under Barack Obama cautioned that lifetime exposure to PFAs in drinking water was associated with developmental problems during pregnancy such as low birth weight and accelerated onset of puberty. Additional potential issues include cancer, liver damage, immune diseases, and more. They reported that thresholds as low as 70 parts per trillion could have detrimental health effects, but took no further action to create enforceable limits.
When the EPA issued the advisory in 2016, 8 water treatment systems exceeded the recommended threshold of 70 parts per trillion. Public health officials at all affected systems worked to bring the levels down to the recommended concentration, though they were not legally bound to do so. As a result, it is unlikely that a local government authority will be liable for any future injuries arising from PFA exposure. Rather, entities that produce large amounts of PFAs, such as private companies and the DoD, will have to answer for the role they played in contaminating the drinking water.
Litigation involving PFA exposure will likely take the form of a class action suit, when several parties band together to collect damages from the party responsible for contaminating the drinking water and causing injury. 3M could be paying for the damages it caused to the Alabama water supply for the foreseeable future, though the federal government could have some culpability if it fails to address the water contamination in a meaningful way. In general, the producers of PFAs, not the local government, will most likely shoulder much of the liability surrounding PFA exposure and the personal injury it causes.
When in Doubt, Consult with an Attorney
If you believe you or a loved one has experienced life-changing medical conditions due to the presence of toxins present in your home, contact our office today to speak with one of our attorneys. Our law firm is experienced in handling sensitive and complex claims, and are here to answer any questions you may have. Call (205) 942-0249 to schedule a free initial consultation.