The Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority has joined 100 other towns across the U.S. in suing chemical company DuPont, manufacturing firm 3M and others they allege are responsible for clean-ups associated with groundwater contamination near airports and industrial sites, including one in Egg Harbor Township.
The multi-district litigation, filed in the District of South Carolina, targets seven polluters the authority says created, marketed, sold or promoted firefighting products that contained a class of chemicals called per- and poly-fluroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Those products were used by the Federal Aviation Administration at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township during training exercises. That contamination migrated from the facility, which is owned by the FAA, into the ACMUA’s wells on the site and into the raw water supply, the authority contends.
“(PFAS) are toxic, not easily biodegradable, persistent in the environment and pose a significant risk to human health and safety,” the complaint states. “(The chemical is) associated with a variety of illnesses, including cancer, and considered particularly dangerous to pregnant women and young children.”
At least 100 other towns across the country have joined the litigation, including Ridgewood, New Jersey, said ACMUA Executive Director Bruce Ward.
In April, the state Department of Environmental Protection proposed new regulations for PFAS. The agency is calling for a maximum contaminant level for perfluorooctanoic acid at 13 parts per trillion and for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid at 14 parts per trillion. Both are in the PFAS family.
The ACMUA water supply’s PFAS levels are at 37 parts per trillion, Ward said.
He said the authority, owned by Atlantic City, filed the suit to recover compensatory damages that could pay for the cost of removing the chemical from local wells if the state’s rules are adopted, rather than raise rates.
It will cost about $20 million for a new carbon plus membrane treatment to pull the remaining contaminants out, Ward said in March, plus $1.5 million a year in additional costs.
“My goal is not to adjust rates,” Ward said. “The liable parties must be held accountable to supplement our cleanup efforts.”
A 3M spokeswoman issued a statement to The Press of Atlantic City saying the company “acted responsibly” when it created and sold the firefighting products to the FAA “and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”
FAA spokesman Richard Breitenfeldt declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The FAA property was given a national designation as a hazardous waste site in 1990, Breitenfeldt has said. The ACMUA relocated its wells there in 1983 to move away from the Price’s Pit Superfund site in Pleasantville.
Ward said the FAA is continuing an “aggressive cleanup effort” at the Tech Center.
In the meantime, Ward said, the authority is investigating ways to reduce PFAS levels if money isn’t awarded from the suit, including relocating the production wells in Egg Harbor Township again.
Also named in the suit are the FAA, Chemours Company, Tyco Fire Products LP, Chemguard Inc., Buckeye Fire Equipment Company and National Foam Inc.