PFAS – THE COST TO TAXPAYERS AND RATEPAYERS
Massachusetts recently announced a $4 million state grant to the Littleton Electric Light and Water Department from the Clean Water Trust, a Massachusetts state agency that improves water quality by providing low interest loans and grants to municipalities. This grant is intended to help Littleton fund the build of a new water treatment plant designed to remove Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from contaminated drinking water sources. The total project cost for the treatment plant is budgeted at $24.5 million. Roughly 80% of the $24.5M will presumably be paid back by Littleton ratepayers while Massachusetts taxpayers cover the $4M grant.
The Problem – PFAS in Massachusetts Drinking Water
Like many other towns across Massachusetts, Littleton’s need for an additional water treatment plant specifically designed to tackle PFAS contamination arises from greater than desired levels of PFAS discovered in their water supply after the implementation of a statewide PFAS drinking water limit. On October 2, 2020, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection published its drinking water standard of 20 nanograms per liter (ng/L) or parts per trillion (ppt) for PFAS. Many Massachusetts municipalities like Littleton discovered unwanted levels of PFAS in their drinking water supply and are now determining how to address this serious problem from both an engineering and funding perspective for the long term.
The Cause – Chemical Companies Put Profits Over the Public
While municipalities, the rate-payers, and residents of the state are generally not the sources of PFAS contamination, they are unfortunately often the ones left holding the bag to fund the remediation. PFAS are a class of hazardous chemicals which have been manufactured by companies like 3M, Chemours, and DuPont since its discovery in the 1940’s. PFAS have been used in the production of non-stick cookware, water repellant clothing, coated paper products, stain resistant carpets, and most notably in the manufacture of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) which for decades has been used ubiquitously across the country for live fire suppression and training exercises. Extensive use of AFFF has left countless sites severely contaminated and in need of remediation, especially current and former airports and military bases as well as the aquifers underlying them.
PFAS used in the manufacture of fire-fighting foams are known as “Forever Chemicals”. These chemicals are given this nickname because they do not degrade in the environment and easily migrate in soil, surface waters, and groundwater. PFAS also bioaccumulate and bio-magnify in the food chain. This is a significant worry because the negative health outcomes associated with exposure to PFAS include Hepatic Effects, Cardiovascular Effects, Endocrine Effects, Immune Effects, Respiratory Effects, Reproductive Effects, Skeletal Effects, Developmental Effects, and Carcinogenic Effects.
As far back as the 1950’s, AFFF manufacturers possessed internal knowledge that PFAS exposure presented concerning health and environmental risks, but stood by as their fire fighting foam products were used on open grounds around the country for training exercises at airports and military bases. These companies sold millions upon millions of gallons of AFFF while downplaying the negative health and environmental effects caused by their products.
Significant Costs of AFFF Contamination
Now that widespread PFAS contamination is being identified in drinking water systems across the country, municipalities are on the hook for the billions of dollars it will cost to upgrade their water treatment systems to process out PFAS chemicals. Citizens are also becoming increasingly concerned about PFAS levels in drinking water at a time when their finances are stretched thin by inflation. Simply passing the cost on to rate payers is untenable and unwise.
Short term solutions such as blending contaminated water with clean water to reduce the concentration of PFAS are also not sustainable. New testing and filtration facilities or equipment are necessary like Littleton’s nearly $25M treatment plant. Additional training and maintenance will also be necessary to sustain these new systems.
Multiple lawsuits have been filed by municipalities across the country against AFFF manufacturers for drinking water source contamination. Towns are seeking the necessary funds to remediate any contamination and upgrade their water treatment and testing facilities. Suits against the AFFF manufacturer were consolidated by the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation into a single action in the District of South Carolina before Judge Richard Gergel. [MDL No. 2873] in 2018. Judge Gergel appointed Mike Stag of Stag Liuzza, LLC to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in charge of the litigation. A municipality, by bringing an action in the MDL, will be able to seek reimbursement from the manufacturers and distributors of AFFF for the costs of remediation and abatement of PFAS contamination.
If you are responsible for water treatment for a municipality and are concerned about the presence or potential presence of PFAS in your water systems, call Stag Liuzza, LLC at 504.593.9600 for a free consultation to see if your town may have a claim.