By Bill Wolfe of WolfeNotes
In a significant legal setback for Dupont, yesterday a US District Court judge ruled in favor of a class action lawsuit filed by neighbors of Dupont’s Chambers Works facility in Deepwater NJ.
Dupont has poisoned nearby drinking water wells and local public water supply systems with the toxic chemical commonly called PFOA (or C8), ammonium perfluorooctanoate.
A copy of the decision can be found here.
US District Court judge Renee Marie Bumb found that Dupont could face a class action suit by up to 15,000 neighbors who own private drinking water wells within a 2 mile radius of the Dupont plant, or are customers of the Pennsgrove NJ water supply system.
The judge ruled that neighbors could sue as a class on grounds of nuisance and public nuisance, including whether Dupont’s release of PFOA to air and groundwater constitutes “an abnormally dangerous activity” subject to a strict liability standard in New Jersey. According to the NJ DEP:
Currently [as of 8/8/09], private wells within two miles of Dupont’s Chambers Works facility in Carneys Point Township, Salem County, are being sampled and analyzed for PFOA. DuPont has agreed to voluntarily conduct this sampling and to provide treatment to those private wells that exceed the USEPA Provisional Health Advisory level of 0.4 ug/L. Because the Department does not have a promulgated drinking water standard or an interim specific ground water criterion for PFOA, the Department currently does not have regulatory authority to require DuPont to provide treatment to wells impacted by PFOA to 0.04 ppb. (link)
Dupont is aggressively challenging DEP’s PFOA risk assessment and recommended drinking water standard of 0.04 ppb (ten times LOWER than EPA’s provisional health advisory level of 0.4 ppb).
We have been writing about Dupont’s attempts to manufacture scientific uncertainty in order to delay and frustrate DEP’s efforts to develop a stringent 0.04 ppb drinking water standard.
Dupont is also seeking to stack a new DEP Science Advisory Board with Dupont scientists in hopes of influencing DEP scientific risk assessments and weaken regulatory standards.
It is likely that if the neighbors prevail in this case, Dupont would be exposed to significant economic liability for PFOA pollution. DEP has found that other public water supply systems and private drinking water wells in NJ are polluted with PFOA. According to DEP:
PFOA has been detected in New Jersey public water supplies in the vicinity of DuPont Chambers Works as well as in other parts of the state. In 2006, PFOA was detected at up to 0.19 ppb and 0.0179 ppb in ground water samples from two different public water systems near the Dupont Chambers Works Facility. Also in 2006, the Department conducted a study of PFOA and a related chemical, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), in 23 other New Jersey public water supplies. This study has been published in a peer reviewed journal, Environmental Science & Technology and is posted on the Department’s Division of Water Supply web page. Of the 23 public water systems sampled in this study, the highest level detected was 0.039 ppb.
Based on recommendations by the Department, PFOA and PFOS were analyzed in 2007-2008 in over 200 samples collected by 18 public water systems throughout the state, including 12 systems sampled in the 2006 study. PFOA concentrations ranged from non-detectable (<0.01 ppb) to 0.14 ppb in water from an unconfined well near Chambers Works. PFOA was detected above the Department’s health-based guidance level of 0.04 ppb in at least one sample from five systems. Results of quarterly sampling of several systems have consistently exceeded the health-based guidance of 0.04 ppb in one or more points-of-entry.