The Delaware County District Attorney’s Office has filed a civil complaint against dozens of chemical manufacturers for what it says is the companies’ role in contaminating local fire facilities with PFAS, known as “forever chemicals,” with some levels thousands of times in excess of federal guidelines.
The Primos-Secane-Westbrook Park Fire Company in Upper Darby, the Haverford Township Firefighting Training Center, and Delaware County Emergency Services Training Center all either had groundwater, wastewater, soil, or sediment polluted by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), according to the suit.
The lawsuit, filed in Common Pleas Court, and announced by District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, seeks unspecified damages for remediation, removal, and disposal of water or soil. It also seeks damages related to diminished property value. It alleges the sites were contaminated by two compounds within the PFAS family of chemicals: PFOA and PFOS.
“The filing of this lawsuit is the first step in holding these chemical companies accountable for the damage they have caused to our County,” Stollsteimer said in the announcement. “Unquestionably, the contamination that we are dealing with could have been prevented if these companies had been honest with consumers.”
The suit is part of a growing backlash against the near ubiquity of PFAS compounds that for decades have been used in products including cookware, fabric treatments, carpeting, and firefighting foam. There are at least 9,000 known PFAS compounds, with 600 still in use in the United States.
They are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals” because of robust chemical bonds that keep them from breaking down in the environment. PFAS are linked to human health issues including high cholesterol, kidney cancer, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, and pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia, officials said.
The Inquirer has previously reported on how the chemicals contaminated a source of drinking water for Bucks County residents living near the Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster and Naval Air Station in Willow Grove. The chemicals leached off the bases from firefighting foam.
In Delaware County, both PFOA and PFOS were found in levels far in excess of EPA guidance of no more than 70 parts per trillion. For example, PFOA was found in 7 of 10 soil samples ranging up to 8,950 parts per trillion at the fire company’s site.
Among the biggest companies named as the source of PFAS: Chemours, 3M, and DuPont. The suit says the three companies made PFAS for decades that were used to make firefighting foam.
In a statement, 3M said the company “acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS, including AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam), and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”
Chemours and DuPont could not reached immediately for comment.
The suit claims that the companies, starting in 1960 through to present day, “designed, manufactured, formulated, marketed, distributed ... aqueous film-forming foam” containing the chemicals “with the knowledge that these toxic compounds would be released into the environment during fire protection, training, and response activities, even when used as directed. ...”
The Primos-Secane-Westbrook Park Fire Company said it should have been made aware of the health risks of using the foam.
“Our board and our members were deeply concerned to learn about the detection of high residual levels of these substances on our property,” said Thomas Micozzie, chair of the fire company’s board.
The fire company has served as an operation base for paid and volunteer firefighters since 1955.
“When you are out fighting a fire, you know you face certain situational risks, but you don’t expect your health to be endangered by the tools and materials you are using,” Micozzie said. “It is disturbing to think that the manufacturers of these chemicals were aware of their toxicity but continued to produce them and failed to notify the public.”
Stollsteimer said the suit originated in the environmental crimes unit he created. He said the manufacturers “had a duty to conduct their operations in a non-deceptive manner that would not unreasonably endanger human health and the environment; however, the companies were negligent and failed to warn consumers of the hazards associated with the use of PFASs that have caused the contamination of groundwater and soil around the property.”
His suit also names nearly two dozen other companies, as well as up to 49 as of yet unnamed defendants.