Up to 130,000 people may be included in a consolidated class action suit, filed on behalf of residents living near military air stations in Bucks and Montgomery counties, according to attorneys involved in the case.
The suit combines complaints filed during the latter half of 2016 by residents living near the former Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Horsham and the former Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster. It seeks medical monitoring for 70,000 residents in the area of the installations well as military and civilian base workers.
In 2014, tests by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found higher than advised levels of compounds called perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, in area drinking water. Tests of public and private wells led to many being taken offline and, eventually, a series of class actions and private injury suits.
The new, combined class action suit seeks preliminary medical monitoring in the form blood testing for potential health effects related to exposure to PFCs.
Last year, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and other elected officials asked the U.S. Department of Defense, which ran the bases, to cover such testing. In July, the federal government said it would not pay for the testing because presence of these chemicals in the blood cannot indicate the source of the contamination.
In a statement, attorney William Brewer representing 3M, one of the defendants, said the company supports the consolidation as a more efficient way to resolve the cases. But 3M “acted responsibility at all times,” he added.
After the defendants — including the Tyco Fire Products, Buckeye Fire Protection Company, Chemguard and National Foam, Inc. — file a response, a judge will decide whether to certify the class action suit and allow it to proceed.
“They have sold a product that hurt our clients,” said Donald Soutar, attorney with Weitz & Luxenberg and interim lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “Whether they knew it or they didn’t know it, nothing can change that.”
The suit also alleges negligence by companies that produced foam, and it seeks relief for decreased property values due to the presence of contaminated water.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, some but not all studies link exposure to PFCs to decreased fertility and other hormone disruptions; adverse fetal development; increased cholesterol; immune system effects; and increased risk of cancer in humans. That department’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry cautions “there is not enough information to evaluate the health effects of exposures to mixtures” of PFCs.