It took less than a month before the national legal media began focusing on our landmark class action lawsuit against Maine papermills for the contamination of drinking water in rural Maine. Potentially many thousands of Maine households are drinking water contaminated with per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
According to an article in the National Law Journal,
“The Skowhegan paper mill, owned by Sappi and referred to as the Somerset Mill, is a pulping and papermaking facility that manufactures various paper products, including coated paper, grease-proof packaging paper, and bleached chemical pulp. The paper mill has an annual production of 970,000 metrics tons of coated paper and 525,000 metric tons of bleached chemical pulp. The paper mill also consists of a wood mill, where incoming lumber is prepared for the manufacturing process.
“The Somerset Mill, like many other paper mills across the globe, produce biosolid waste as a result of cleaning and chemically preparing materials for use in the mill’s finished product. The biosolid waste is a sludge material that must be disposed of in some fashion by the mill. Studies have shown that on average, 35% of the material entering pulp and paper mills becomes waste residue. The waste includes a variety of materials, including wastewater sludge, woodyard waste, trash, demolition debris, and ash from boilers. While some of the waste residue can be reused for energy production, the rest must be discarded. Paper mills typically dispose of residue waste by discharging it into the air, water in the form of treated effluent, or into the soil in the form of solid waste or sludge.
“In the PFAS paper mill lawsuit, the allegations are that the paper mill obtained licenses from the state of Maine to spread the sludge material on nearby farms, as it also has fertilizing properties that are beneficial to farmers. However, the paper mill is alleged to have known that the PFAS-containing waste that they spread on farms was hazardous, or based on the existing knowledge about PFAS, they should have known of those hazards.”
The lawyers who wrote the article correctly note that our lawsuit should concern many businesses and not just in Maine.
For years the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) struggled to figure out how to best regulate PFAS. Until recently there were few studies on the health effects of these chemicals although we believe that the makers of these chemicals and paper mills long knew of their dangers.
Complicating the EPA’s task is the fact that PFAS is really a family of chemicals – there are between 7,000 and 9,400 variants. The studies mostly examine the health effects of a handful of the more common variants such as PFOA and PFOS. In reality, there are thousands of variants, most of which have not been studied and for which there are no testing standards.
In recent years the EPA has set an advisory guideline of 70 parts per trillion for drinking water but most health experts that the exposure limits should be set much lower.
Today the EPA’s guidelines are just that. They are guidelines and not hard limits. We expect, however, that the agency will establish hard limits in 2021. Some states have already done so and more will surely follow.
As states and private labs begin widespread testing, we expect to see many more lawsuits. And this time, it won’t just be papermills and landfills that are targets. Lawsuits will seek remediation costs and property devaluation. In some tragic cases, claims for wrongful death, cancer and other personal injuries.
Is Your Well or Water Supply Contaminated with PFAS?
The shocking truth about the PFAS contamination cases is that most of those suffering from contaminated drinking water don’t live next door to a papermill, factory or landfill. As we learned in the Maine case, contaminated biosolids from the mill were spread on nearby farms as fertilizer. As the ground becomes contaminated, manure from cows and other livestock living on those farms may then be spread on other farms.
You could be miles from a factory that uses PFAS yet still have dangerously toxic levels of toxic PFAS in your water. One unlucky family in our case lives miles from the Somerset mill yet still has almost 200 times the federal EPA guidelines for PFAS in their well water.
The first step is to have your water tested, especially if your well comes from a well. (If you have water from a municipality or water district, ask them whether they test for PFAS and what those tests show. Merely having below 70 parts per trillion of PFAS doesn’t mean your water is safe to drink.)
In many locales, the state will offer testing, especially if you live near a source of contamination. Private testing is available but is usually quite expensive, often between $300 and $600. (We have seen tests as low as $79 if you send in your own sample.) If you do get testing – we think it is well worth the cost, particularly if someone in the household has cancer, kidney problems or serious health problems.
If you can’t find a lab, check with amazon.com or with your state water quality agency.
There are no standard testing protocols and no one we know of tests for all 7,000 to 9,000+ variants of PFAS. At a minimum, make sure your test includes PFOA and PFOS. Many tests now include a multitude of known bad PFAS compounds including PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFHpA and PFNA.
If you have a positive test, speak with your state safe drinking water program or state environmental protection agency. They are useful in tracking down the source of the contamination.
You should also contact an experienced PFAS contamination lawyer. You may be entitled to damages for future medical monitoring, costs of remediation and the decrease in your home’s value. If some in the home has thyroid cancer, kidney cancer, testicular cancer or birth defects, you may have a claim for those injuries. No lawsuit can restore your health but courts can award damages to help defray medical expenses and pain and suffering.
To learn more, contact a PFAS contamination lawyer at Mahany Law online, by phone or by email . There is never a charge for a consultation and all inquiries are kept confidential. We also invite you to visit our PFAS lawsuit information page and our video.