Residents near ex-Navy bases sue firefighting foam makers

IndustrialsAssociated Press

Residents near two former Navy bases in suburban Philadelphia are suing producers of firefighting foam once used there, claiming they contaminated the drinking water.

New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg filed the federal lawsuit Thursday in Philadelphia on behalf of seven people who lived near the Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base and the former Naval Air Warfare Center. The lawsuit seeks chemical cleanup and unspecified damages.

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Named as defendants are The 3M Co., of St. Paul, Minnesota; UK-based Angus Fire; The Ansul Co., of Marinette, Wisconsin; North Carolina-based Buckeye Fire Protection Co.; Wisconsin's Chemguard; and National Foam, of West Chester.

The residents allege the companies should've known perfluorooctane sulfonate and other chemicals would pose health and environmental risks. They're seeking class-action status.

"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," Robin Greenwald, who heads an environmental unit at the law firm, said in a statement.

The chemical compounds have been found in some firefighting foams that were widely used for decades on military bases throughout the country. They are also found in some household items like food packaging.

No scientific evidence has consistently linked the chemicals to cancer in humans, although some studies have shown that people exposed to high levels of the compounds had higher incidents of kidney, prostate and testicular cancers, the Pennsylvania Department of Health says.

The Navy and National Guard previously agreed to pay about $19 million to provide residents replacement water and install filtration systems, after more than a dozen public wells and 140 private wells in the Philadelphia area were taken offline.

William A. Brewer III, an attorney for 3M, said the claims against the company have no merit. He said the U.S. military used the product "because it saves lives, which likely explains why this product remains in use about a decade after 3M exited the sales of it."

The company sold the product with instructions on how to safely use and dispose of it, Brewer said in a statement.

Other companies named in the lawsuit did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment.