MANSFIELD — City of Mansfield water consumers can be confident their drinking water is safe, according to Assistant Law Director Chris Brown.
Brown offered the reassurance on Saturday morning, one day after he sent out an email announcing the city plans to use outside counsel to sue companies responsible for alleged contamination in the ground at Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport.
All water sent through the city’s water system is tested and treated at Mansfield’s treatment plant, according to Brown.
“The city tests its water and City of Mansfield water consumers get those annual reports with their water bills. Consumers of city water can be confident their drinking water is safe,” Brown said.
Brown’s email late Friday afternoon said the city “is taking the first step” to hold responsible companies such as 3M, DuPont, Chemours, Tyco Fire Products and Chemguard.
“As direct result of their act and omissions, these companies have caused significant harm to the city and its residents. These companies are responsible for restoring to the city the enormous costs and expenses associated with redressing the injuries the city has suffered as a result of the ongoing PFAS contamination of the Mansfield-Lahm Regional Airport,” Brown said in his email.
The companies must be held “accountable for their negligence” for manufacturing products they knew contained toxic chemicals “that could easily spread through the environment and contaminate natural resources,” Brown stated.
The email came three days after City Council voted unanimously to support the administration engaging with outside legal counsel to pursue litigation related to PFAS, aka “forever chemicals,” water pollutants which have become a target for cities around the country.
According to a story published in 2022 by Bloomberglaw.com, companies such as 3M Co., Chemguard Inc., Kidde-Fenwal Inc., National Foam Inc., and Dynax Corp. “are now being sued at roughly the same rate as DuPont, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis of more than 6,400 PFAS-related lawsuits filed in federal courts between July 2005 and March 2022.”
Council met in executive session on Jan. 3 and Jan. 17 with Ohio attorneys Dale Seif Jr. from Waverly, and Rusty Miller from Portsmouth. The Louisiana law firm of Cossich, Sumich, Parsiola & Taylor participated in the closed-door sessions on Zoom.
The lawsuit will be handled on a contingency basis, according to Brown, which means the outside law firms don’t get paid unless the city wins its lawsuit or achieves a settlement.
The alleged contamination allegedly stems from fire-fighting foam used by firefighters from the 179th Airlift Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard based at Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport.
In his email, Brown said PFAS, including perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (“PFOS”), were discovered in the Air National Guard base on city-owned property, including but not limited to, groundwater, surface water, and soil.
“PFOA and PFOS are toxic, man-made compounds that do not occur naturally in the environment. PFOA and PFOS have been used in many nonstick, stain-resistant, and waterproof products, such as aqueous film-forming foam (“AFFF”),” Brown wrote.
In the 1960s, the U.S. Navy worked with 3M to develop firefighting foams that could efficiently fight liquid fuel fires—known as Class B fires.
Water can’t be used on these fires because gasoline, which is lighter than water, rises to the surface and continues burning. The intensity of the fires also evaporates water before it can have an effect.
The product 3M and the Navy created was called aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF. It utilized a blend of PFAS—often PFOS—and water to create a foam that can blanket a liquid fuel fire and suffocate it. The foam also prevents hot fuel from reigniting.
The product has been required at military bases and airports for decades. But its frequent use in training exercises and emergencies has elevated PFAS levels in surrounding groundwater and drinking water.
The water authority near Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base, for example, reported in 2018 that its drinking water had PFOS and PFOA levels 2,435 times greater than the EPA’s health advisory level—likely due to the use of AFFF.
These firefighting foams are now the source of so much PFAS litigation that in late 2018 a special body within the federal judiciary consolidated hundreds of cases into a single docket called a multidistrict litigation.
— Source: Bloomberglaw.com
AFFF is a firefighting agent used to control and extinguish Class B fires. It is typically used at fire training centers, airports, and military bases, such as the 179th.
The 179th had a flying mission for seven decades, a task that ended in 2022. The unit is transitioning into the National Guard’s first Information Warfare (Cyber) Wing.
Brown said AFFF can be made without PFOA, PFOS, or its precursor chemicals.
“When released into the environment, PFOA and PFOS are persistent, do not biodegrade, move readily through soil, surface water and groundwater, can bioaccumulate and biomagnify in animal tissue, including humans, fish and wildlife, and pose a significant risk to humans, animals, and the environment,” Brown said in his email.
On Saturday morning, Brown said the outside attorneys contacted the city about the alleged contamination.
“This group of law firms represent close to 190 communities across the country dealing with the same problem,” Brown said. “(Lawyers) cited reports from the EPA and Department of Defense about contamination at the airport.”
According to a story published Dec. 21 at michiganlive.com, 3M announced it will stop making materials with PFAS by the end of 2025.
3M, which has been manufacturing PFAS since the 1950s, cited “accelerating regulatory trends focused on reducing or eliminating the presence of PFAS in the environment and changing stakeholder expectations” as a basis for its decision, according to the story.
Brown said he is helping to draft the complaint, which he said will likely be filed in Richland County Common Plea Court.
The lawsuit could be centralized into “multidistrict litigation,” similar to lawsuits against opiate manufacturers, that would allow oversight of the cases by a single judge, according to Brown.
“We hope to file as soon as possible,” Brown said.
Richland Source first reported the potential issues with PFAS on Jan. 16 in a preview of the second closed-door meeting.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, studies have shown exposure to certain levels of PFAS may lead to:
• Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women.
• Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes.
• Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers.
• Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response.
• Interference with the body’s natural hormones.
• Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity.
The EPA has said it will finalize national drinking water standards for PFAS by the fall of 2023, which would require water utilities to test for the chemicals and remove them.
In June of 2022, the agency released new draft advisory levels for the chemicals that lowered what’s considered a safe level of long-term exposure in drinking water to virtually zero.