Justice finally arrives for a small Wisconsin community with the news of a multimillion-dollar award in a firefighting foam class action lawsuit. On January 7, Tyco Firefighting Technology Center agreed to pay $17.5 million to a group of Peshtigo homeowners who found their private drinking water wells were contaminated by toxic chemicals in firefighting foam runoff.
The lawsuit, filed in 2018, represents 270 households in Peshtigo, WI who had a private well on their property. Plaintiffs claim this well was contaminated with PFAS that came from Tyco’s center in Marinette. The Peshtigo community members also allege the contamination dates back to the 1960s.
Since the 1950’s many of the most popular firefighting foam brands on the market contain chemicals called per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are highly durable manmade chemicals designed to resist water, oil, and grease, making them ideal substances to add to Class B firefighting foam.
However, experts indicate PFAS can take thousands of years to degrade, if ever. Studies uncovered PFAS can enter into the body and environment and stay there for a long time, earning them the nickname of “forever chemicals.” Since their introduction to the market, PFAS have been linked to a number of health concerns including thyroid disease, liver damage, decreased fertility, obesity, and cancer.
According to recent investigations, communities located near venues that manufacture, burn, or use firefighting foam have an increased risk of being impacted by PFAS contamination. Firefighting foam runoff from these venues can seep into local groundwater and contaminate private wells and local drinking water.
According to the firefighting foam class action lawsuit settlement, Tyco settled with the Peshtigo community members for $17.5 million: $15 million for class-wide claims and property damage, and $2.5 million to community members diagnosed with cancer due to PFAS exposure.
“This settlement agreement is part of Tyco’s efforts to address the disruption this issue has caused our neighbors,” Tyco Spokesperson Katie McGinty said in a press release published January 7. “It does not affect or change Tyco’s ongoing initiatives to remediate PFAS from the FTC in the Marinette/Peshtigo area to ensure our neighbors have clean and safe water.”
Based on the level of contamination, residents are expected to receive between $60,000 and &70,000 per household. Reports indicate this firefighting foam settlement is the first of its kind involving water contamination.
Tyco and other firefighting foam manufacturers face a growing number of AFFF injury lawsuits across the United States. Each of these lawsuits raises similar claims that firefighting foam manufacturers failed to warn consumers about the health risks linked to PFAS in firefighting foam. Plaintiffs from across the country allege PFAS in AFFF caused cancer diagnoses including pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and other injuries.
Due to the increasing number of claims raising similar questions of fact and law, lawsuits over firefighting foam injuries have been centralized for pretrial proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. Currently, parties are engaging in coordinated discovery and preparing for early “bellwether” trials, which help parties gauge how juries will likely respond to evidence and testimony repeated throughout the claims.