Dane County is filing a lawsuit against over 30 companies to recover money needed for past and future cleanup of “forever chemicals” contaminating land and water in Madison.
The pollution is located in and around Dane County Regional Airport and Truax Field Air National Guard Base. Nearby Starkweather Creek and Lake Monona are under fish consumption advisories, and a well near to the airport has been shut down since 2019. The high level of PFAS contamination has been linked to firefighting foam for decades at Truax Airfield.
The lawsuit was brought forward by both the Dane County Board and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi earlier this year, though it was not filed until last week.
Sarah Smith, District 24 Supervisor, tells WORT, “This is an opportunity to seek damages from the manufacturers that knowingly continue to produce and sell a product that could do harm to people that live in our community.”
In the lawsuit, the county claims that some of these companies have for decades “designed, manufactured, marketed, distributed, and/or sold” products with the knowledge that toxic compounds would be released into the environment during fire protection and training.
The complaint submitted on behalf of the county mentions DuPont studies conducted on plant workers exposed to various PFAS. Between 1979 and 1981, of female workers in their Parkersburg, West Virginia plant, 7 babies were born and 2 were observed to have defects, including an “unconfirmed eye”.
The complaint also alleges that beginning in 1983, 3M documented a trend of increasing levels of one PFAS compound- PFOS 0 in the bodies of 3M workers. In an internal memo, 3M’s medical officer warned “we must view this present trend with serious concern. It is certainly possible that … exposure opportunities are providing a potential uptake of fluorochemicals that exceeds excretion capabilities of the body.
Dane County is not the first to file a lawsuit against these companies for PFAS contamination. Last year, the City of Lacrosse filed a similar suit for PFAS contamination near their airport. That case was heard at a court in South Carolina with nearly 500 related suits.
“In looking at how this has played out in other states and other communities across the country, unfortunately, PFAS regulation and remediation could take years,” says Analiese Eicher, former chair of the Dane County Board.
The state recently brought about a related suit after similar contamination was found in the city of Marinette. That lawsuit was brought forward by Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and is still working its way through the court.
The amount claimed by the county for damages has yet to be decided, as the cleanup has been split between multiple municipalities across the county.
This lawsuit is happening in conjunction with the conclusion of the first part of the remedial investigation of the PFAS contamination coming from Dane County Airport and Truax Field. The first part of the investigation has involved extensive drilling and sampling to test the soil in the area. EA Engineering and Plains Environmental Services were both contracted to help collect and process data.
The next part of the investigation will involve groundwater samples. After all data is collected, the EPA will make a preferred remedy recommendation. Dane County is hoping that the bills for all this will be picked up by these companies through the lawsuit.