Fairborn suing 3M, BASF, 30 other businesses over water contamination concerns

A Wright Patterson Force Base contractor collects drinking water samples in May 2021 from a home in Fairborn. The base sampled 22 wells in nearby neighborhoods for a group of contaminants known as PFAS. Contributed

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A Wright Patterson Force Base contractor collects drinking water samples in May 2021 from a home in Fairborn. The base sampled 22 wells in nearby neighborhoods for a group of contaminants known as PFAS. Contributed

The city of Fairborn is suing 32 businesses, including several corporations which manufacture chemicals, over potential contamination of its water sources.

The lawsuit filed in Greene County Common Pleas Court seeks compensation and damages “as a result of actions and/or inactions” of the defendants involving potentially harmful chemicals in the city’s water supply.

The defendants named in the 48-page suit filed July 22 include 3M, BASF, Chemours, E.I. Dupont, Johnson Controls, Raytheon Technologies and 26 others.

Fairborn’s “property has been, and continues to be, contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkylsubstances (PFAS)” and other chemicals the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said may have harmful health effects, the filing states.

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Those other chemicals include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). The group is often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not biodegrade and can lead to serious health problems.

The Dayton Daily News, through its Path Forward project, has for years been a leader in reporting on these chemicals, in local cities, in water systems, and at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base .

The Dayton Daily News has reached out for comment to Fairborn officials and several of the businesses named as defendants.

A statement from 3M said it “acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS — including AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) — and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”

Another, Tyco Fire Products, which merged with Johnson Controls in 2016, said it does not comment about ongoing litigation.

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“The city is taking a proactive step to ensure that our drinking water continues to be safe for our residents,” Fairborn City Manager Rob Anderson said in an email.

“While there is no current threat to our drinking water, we need to ensure that these ‘forever chemicals’ do not contaminate our well field. We want to hold the manufacturers of these chemicals accountable for any remediation that may be necessary in the future. I want to be clear that our drinking water is safe, and we want it to remain that way,” Anderson added.

The lawsuit states “PFOA and PFOS are toxic and persistent in the environment, do not biodegrade, move readily through soil and water, and pose a significant risk to human health and safety and the environment.”

Those two chemicals are “highly water soluble, which increases the rate at which they spread throughout the environment, contaminating soil, groundwater, and surface water. Their mobility is made more dangerous by their persistence in the environment and resistance to biologic, environmental, or photochemical degradation,” according to documents.

“At various times from the 1960s through today, defendants designed, manufactured, marketed, distributed, and/or sold PFOA and/or PFOS, the chemical precursors (of them) and/or their chemical precursors … and/or assumed or acquired liabilities for the manufacture and/or sale of fluorosurfactant products,” the filing states.

Fluorosurfactant products include Teflon, Scotchguard, waterproofing and stainproofing compounds, as well as paper, cloth coatings and waxes, documents state.

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The suit cites the U.S. EPA studies “that indicate exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels may result in” harmful effects during pregnancy, and may impact an individual’s chances of getting cancer and other illnesses.

The EPA last month issued a new standard for safer levels of so-called “forever chemicals” in drinking water.

The federal agency’s decision has prompted state and local governments charged with protecting water to look anew at what has been a vexing issue in the Dayton area.

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The EPA set health risk thresholds for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water near zero — no more than 0.02 parts per trillion, replacing 2016 guidelines that had set them at 70 parts per trillion.

Fairborn wants recovery for “past and future compensatory and/or consequential damages for the investigation, remediation, treatment, removal, disposal, and/or ongoing contamination of its water resources,” according to the lawsuit.

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