Mass. county to sue firefighting foam manufacturers

The chemicals have been linked to health problems that include thyroid disorders and developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy

By Geoff Spillane
Cape Cod Times

HYANNIS, Mass. — Barnstable County will follow the lead of the town of Barnstable in pursuing legal action against manufacturers of firefighting foams believed to be responsible for contaminating the Hyannis water supply.

The three county commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to sign a legal services agreement to sue the manufacturers.

The county will be represented by SL Environmental Law Group, of San Francisco, and Kennedy & Madonna, of New York. The law firms will seek compensation for the county for the costs of cleaning up soil and groundwater near affected well fields by the Barnstable County Fire and Rescue Training Academy.

The firms will work for the county on a contingency basis and not receive payment unless the lawsuit is successful.

The foams were used at the academy, as well as at the adjacent Barnstable Municipal Airport, until at least 2009. They contained PFOS, a perfluorinated chemical identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a "contaminant of emerging concern." The chemicals have been linked to health problems that include thyroid disorders, developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy, liver damage and testicular and kidney cancer.

"I think we stand a good chance of winning." Barnstable County Administrator John "Jack" Yunits Jr. told the commissioners. "It's the manufacturer's duty to put safe products in the market. When a product is used for its intended purpose and no warnings about harmful effects from its use are issued, then that productive is defective."

The lawsuit is separate from the action taken by Barnstable last month when it filed a case in U.S. District Court in Boston seeking a multimillion-dollar settlement against six manufacturers of firefighting foams, including industrial giant 3M.

"They (the county) certainly should be looking at this," said Charles McLaughlin, assistant town attorney for Barnstable. "Many of the claims the town has made against the manufacturers are claims that perhaps the county could press as well."

The town already has spent nearly $5 million in cleanup costs for the affected wells, and that amount is expected to at least double in 2017, according to McLaughlin.

The town filed a lawsuit in July in Barnstable Superior Court against the county seeking more than $2 million in damages for contamination of the water supply servicing Hyannis residents and businesses.

Levels of the chemicals above EPA health advisory limits found in the wells caused the town to issue public health advisories for the Hyannis water system twice since 2015. The temporary advisories warned pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants to avoid consuming water from the public water supply.

The town of Barnstable has since installed carbon treatment units on affected wells to remove contaminants and ensure the water is safe to drink and use for the 18,000 residential and business customers in Hyannis, Hyannisport and West Hyannisport.

Negotiations with the county are aggressively ongoing, according to McLaughlin.

"We hope to get the lawsuit (with the town) resolved very quickly," Yunits said.

Copyright 2016 Cape Cod Times

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