Dane County sues foam manufacturers over PFAS at Madison airport

2022-05-06 06:54:54 By : Ms. Angie Zhao

MADISON – Dane County is pursuing legal action against more than 30 manufacturers of firefighting foam containing "forever chemicals" in an effort to recover money spent monitoring and removing the chemicals from the Madison airport. 

The county last week filed the suit against the manufacturers of foam containing PFAS, including Tyco Fire Products, Chemours and Johnson Controls International, which are all linked to a production facility in Marinette. Also listed are Minnesota-based 3M and West Virginia-based DuPont. 

In the complaint, the county said contamination found at the Dane County Regional Airport in the soil, groundwater, surface water and wastewater is linked to the use of PFAS-containing foam for fire response and training throughout the last several decades, both by the airport itself and the 115th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard, which operates Truax Field in the same area. 

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Firefighting foam containing PFAS was produced starting in the 1960s, and by the 1980s, there was emerging evidence that the chemicals were unsafe for humans. By the 2010s, studies linked PFAS and negative health impacts, but the companies still did not warn consumers of the risks of releasing the foam into the environment, according to the complaint. 

"A reasonable manufacturer, seller, or distributor, under the same or similar circumstances, would have warned of the dangers or instructed on the safe use of the (PFAS) Products," the complaint says. 

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The contamination at the Madison airport was discovered in 2018. In 2019, the city discovered high levels of PFAS in the nearby city well 15, prompting it to be taken offline. The well remains offline as the city searches for a way to remove the chemicals from the water.    

The contamination at the airport has also impacted nearby Starkweather Creek, which has consistently had high levels of PFAS both in the water and in fish harvested from it. 

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The Air National Guard is already working to find ways to remediate the soil at Truax Field, recently announcing the end of its remedial investigation of both soil and water in the area. 

Dane County isn't the first to file a lawsuit against foam manufacturers. The city of La Crosse in March 2021 filed a suit against a similar list of companies, alleging that they continued to make and sell the foam for use at the city's airport, even though there was knowledge of the danger the PFAS chemicals within them posed to the environment and humans.

More:Fish caught in Madison waters may contain 'forever chemicals'

The contamination stemming from the La Crosse Regional Airport has impacted a large swath of the Town of Campbell, located just outside the airport's borders on French Island. Many residents on the island have been reliant on bottled water for over a year now as the city explores options for providing a long-term source of clean water there.

There is a chance that both the La Crosse and Madison lawsuits could both be heard by a judge in the U.S. District Court of South Carolina, where cases nationwide involving PFAS contamination from firefighting foam are being heard. 

The companies named in the Madison case could seek the move, said Amy Tutwiler, the Assistant Corporation Counsel for Dane County. 

"Whatever happens, we are prepared to take the action that is in the best interests of the County," Tutwiler said in an email. 

The state has also taken action against one manufacturer — Tyco Fire Products, a subsidiary of Johnson Controls. Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit against the company last month, alleging that the company knowingly released PFAS into the environment for years, putting residents in Marinette and Peshtigo at risk. 

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a family of man-made chemicals used for their water- and stain-resistant qualities in products like clothing and carpet, nonstick cookware, packaging and firefighting foam. The family includes 5,000 compounds, which are persistent, remaining both in the environment and human body over time.  

More: What are PFAS? Here's what you need to know about the emerging contaminant group known as 'forever chemicals'

The chemicals have been linked to types of kidney and testicular cancers, lower birth weights, harm to immune and reproductive systems, altered hormone regulation and altered thyroid hormones. The chemicals enter the human body largely through drinking water.

Laura Schulte can be reached at leschulte@jrn.com and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura.