Nassau villages, town file suit against chemical companies for clean water

By Alexandra Whitbeck

The villages of Mineola, Carle Place and Port Washington and the Town of Hempstead recently filed suit against consumer goods companies 3M and DuPont for having sold products with contaminants that, they allege, have polluted drinking water wells with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). The chemicals are linked to range of health issues such as cancer and can be found in any number of products, including floor polishes and firefighting foams.

Nassau County is facing widespread PFOA and PFOS contamination in water sources. In their suits, the municipalities demand that the companies pay for the removal of the toxins. They claim that the companies knew about the potential risk of polluting drinking water when manufacturing these products.

Mineola’s case file states, “PFOA and PFOS have been detected in varying amounts at varying times in the village’s wells, including at levels that have compelled the village to take responsive actions. In addition, PFOA and PFOS’s high mobility and persistence in soil and groundwater means they will likely continue to spread and affect even more of the village’s wells in the future.”

Mineola passed a motion Oct. 2 to spend $499,999 to install and implement a new carbon filtration system at its well number seven to address the contamination. The Department of Public Works is initiating this “fast track approach [that] would allow us to implement a three-pronged strategy” to upgrade water treatment facilities to detect and remove these substances, Public Works Superintendent Thomas Rini said.

In response to the allegations, 3M representative Fanna Haile-Selassie told Newsday, “3M acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”

Dupont could not be reached for comment.

 The Town of Hempstead, whose board is seen above, is suing chemical manufacturers over widespread water contamination within the town. Photo: Town of Hempstead screenshot.

The largest town in America, the Town of Hempstead, is taking similar legal action against Dow Chemical Company, Ferro Corporation and Vulcan Materials Company for having “knowingly and willfully manufactured, promoted and/or sold products containing 1,4-dioxane… a highly toxic chemical… to local consumers,” according to an Oct. 15 town news release. 1, 4-dioxnae is commonly used as a solvent in the manufacturing of other chemicals, and traces can be found in certain cosmetics.

Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen stated in a news release that the town “has already begun taking action to ensure that this toxic chemical won’t harm our residents.”

The three companies in question all deny the claims. Vulcan materials said it would seek to have the lawsuit dismissed, according to Newsday.

“Rather than go after the companies on Long Island directly responsible for the contamination, the water suppliers brought this suit against Dow even though Dow did not conduct any operations on Long Island that are a source of contamination,” Ashley E. Mendoza of Dow Chemical recently told Newsday.

The health effects of PFOS, PFOA and 1,4-dioxane vary. When tested on lab rats, 1,4-dioxane resulted in tumors in the liver and kidneys, in addition to cancer, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The Department of Health and Human Services considers the chemical carcinogenic to humans, potentially resulting in cancer. A 2016 study by the federal Environmental Protection Agency concluded that PFOS and PFOA can be linked to thyroid disorders, pregnancy complications and a lessened response to vaccines.

In July, the New York State Department of Health released a recommendation urging a new water standard to be put in place, allowing only 10 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water, compared to the current limit of 70 ppt. There is no standard for 1,4-dioxane, as it is considered an “emerging contaminant,” defined by the EPA as “a chemical or material that is characterized by a perceived, potential, or real threat to human health or the environment.” However, the newly proposed standards would halt 1,4-dioxane at 1 part per billion.

The Nassau County Department of Public Health verified that the new standards have not yet been enacted by the state, and they are not part of current allegations in the lawsuits. The companies are alleged to have violated current standards for these chemicals — over 70 ppt for PFOS and PFOA, and the introduction of 1,4-dioxane.

As the towns work to implement treatment procedures for these contaminants, Gillen assured residents that the cost of cleaning up the contaminants will not be shouldered by taxpayers, but by the companies.