Laurel, Md. – August 4, 2023 – Working as champions of clean water and vigilant stewards of the public’s money, WSSC Water today filed a lawsuit against nearly 20 companies that knowingly polluted the environment with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals.” The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland (Southern Division), was brought against 3M, Dupont, Chemours and others for manufacturing fire-suppression foams, which contain PFAS, and concealing the toxic nature of the materials from the public.
PFAS are compounds that do not easily break down and end up in drinking water supplies and wastewater. The lawsuit seeks to hold these companies financially responsible for any past, present and future water and wastewater treatment changes as they profited from selling products they knew contained these dangerous substances.
“As an organization committed to public health and safety, we owe it to our 1.9 million customers to hold accountable those responsible for producing these pollutants,” said WSSC Water Commission Chair Regina Y. Speed-Bost. “We are proud of our impressive record of zero drinking water quality violations in our 105-year history and are committed to doing everything in our power to continue this exceptional level of excellence, which includes filing this lawsuit.”
On March 14, 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed new regulations impacting six types of PFAS in drinking water. While the measured amount of PFAS in WSSC Water’s drinking water is low and complies with these proposed regulatory requirements, additional water treatment may be needed to maintain adequate margin of safety and manage future compliance. The cost to make treatment changes to meet the new proposed regulations and potential future PFAS rules affecting wastewater products could be substantial.
“Fair is fair, and we need to hold the entities causing PFAS to enter the environment financially responsible for removing their substances from water and wastewater,” said WSSC Water General Manager and CEO Kishia L. Powell. “The significant costs to upgrade our facilities should not be passed on to our customers.”
WSSC Water joins numerous other plaintiffs in fire-suppression foam litigation, including the State of Maryland, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, Anne Arundel County and Baltimore. WSSC Water is represented by the law firms Grant & Eisenhofer and Gordon, Wolf & Carney.
For two of the most common PFAS compounds, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the EPA proposed a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 4.0 parts per trillion, which is equivalent to one drop of water in five Olympic-sized swimming pools. The EPA also proposed a regulation to limit any mixture containing one or more of the following four PFAS compounds: PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and HFPO-DA (commonly called GenX chemicals).
PFAS, often called forever chemicals, are a large group of manufactured compounds used since the 1940s in common household and commercial products. Having unique chemical properties, PFAS are present in fire-suppression foams and often used to keep food from sticking to cookware and make clothes, carpets and furniture resistant to water and stains. PFAS are very prevalent in the human body and environment, do not break down, and will accumulate over time and end up in drinking water supplies. PFAS can also enter the wastewater system as consumers wash products containing these chemicals and through bodily waste. For several years, WSSC Water has been proactively testing for PFAS compounds in drinking water and wastewater – testing protocols that went above and beyond federal and state requirements. Test results for drinking water are posted here.
It is important to note that a person’s exposure to PFAS comes from many sources, including consumer goods such as cookware, cosmetics, food wrappings, stain/water-resistant clothing, and carpet and furniture treatments. To reduce exposure to PFAS, avoid buying non-stick cookware and stain-resistant furniture and carpeting containing PFAS. Look for ‘fluoro’ or ‘perfluoro’ in a list of ingredients or ask the manufacturer. Limit eating foods packed in materials that use PFAS, like microwave popcorn bags, fast food boxes and bakery bags. And avoid personal care products with PFAS, including certain dental floss, nail polish, facial moisturizers and cosmetics. Limiting the use of products containing PFAS will help protect our environment and drinking water supplies.