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I-TEAM: Fairborn sues over 30 companies, claiming water supply contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’

FAIRBORN — Nearly three dozen companies were named in a newly-filed lawsuit by the City of Fairborn claiming some of the companies’ products contaminated the city’s water supply with so-called “forever chemicals.”

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The 48-page lawsuit was filed Friday in Greene County Common Pleas Court, naming several high-profile companies in the suit including 3M, DuPont, Tyco Fire Products, BASF, and others for a total of 32 named companies, court records obtained by News Center 7 show.

The lawsuit accuses the companies of creating, selling, and marketing products for years that have contaminated the city’s drinking water supply with substances known as “forever chemicals,” but officially called polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and two acids known as PFOA and PFOS.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that are used in products such as carpeting, upholstery, cookware, food packaging and firefighting foam. Contamination from manufacturing operations and firefighting activities can migrate through soil, posing potential threats to surface and ground waters.

Citing a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency document, the lawsuit said the chemicals are “highly water soluble” and “increase the rate at which they spread throughout the environment.”

“Scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals,” the EPA said in a PFAS document.

The lawsuit claims that PFAS chemicals are toxic and persistent in the environment, do not biodegrade, move readily through soil and water, and pose a significant risk to human health and safety and the environment. According to the EPA, exposure to PFAS may result in developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breast-fed infants, cancer, either testicular or kidney, liver effects, immune effects, thyroid effects.

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PFAS have been a focus for several years in the area, including in 2019 when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine order the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Health to analyze the presence of PFAS in Ohio’s drinking water. Presence of PFAS has also led to other lawsuits in the area including the City of Dayton suing Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 2021 for failing to stopping contaminants from entering the city’s water supply.

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While the base was not listed in the defendants of the lawsuit, WPAFB is mentioned as one of the places where the products manufactured by the companies were used or stored, according to the lawsuit.

“Defendants’ Fluorosurfactant products have been released, used, stored, and/or disposed of at sites, including but not limited Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, located in the vicinity of the (City of Fairborn’s) property including its water sources,” the lawsuit alleges.

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“(The PFAS products) were stored, used, cleaned up, and/or disposed of as directed and intended by the (City of Fairborn) which allowed (PFAS) and/or their chemical precursors to enter the environment and migrate through the soil, sediment, surface water, and groundwater, thereby contaminating (Fairborn’s) property.”

Fairborn city leaders spoke with News Center 7′s Mike Campbell Tuesday and stressed their water supply is safe and free of chemicals.

“Fairborn water is safe,” City Manager Rob Anderson said.

A water treatment facility is operated by the city along Sand Hill Road and a water reclamation center is in operation on state Route 4 and Upper Valley Road. But during testing two years ago, traces of PFAS were found in a back-up well used only during maintenance, Anderson said. The well has since been taken out of service and follow-up testing has so far found no traces of contamination, Anderson said.

The city’s lawsuit aims to hold manufacturers responsible of these potentially damaging chemicals, not places where where they are stored like Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, he added.

“We wanted to be very careful when we entered this lawsuit that we weren’t doing anything to negatively impact Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,” Anderson said.

The lawsuit seeks “compensatory or consequential damages” for all past and future costs for the city to investigate, treat, remove, and monitor PFAS contamination. However the city does not list a dollar amount they are seeking in full from the companies.

Anderson said the city is seeking funds so they can continue to pay to add monitoring, or remediate any future underground plumes that could impact Fairborn water. If there are any upgrades needed to keep the water pure, the city wants to make sure the money is there to pay for it.

“We are trying to proactively cover those costs,” Anderson said.

Fairborn residents who spoke with News Center 7 said safe water is a top priority and the people responsible should be the ones who pay to keep the water clean.

“I think all communities should make sure the water is safe, be proactive,” Joan Taylor of Fairborn said.

“I mean I think they should if they are definitely one of the people responsible for it, they should pay for it, no reason we should have to,” Chloe Krauss of Fairborn said.

A spokesperson for BASF provided the following statement Tuesday evening:

“BASF is aware of the recently filed complaint by the city of Fairborn, which is one of a number of lawsuits relating to PFAS contamination from AFFF and other sources. The company does not believe the allegations have merit, and it intends to defend these cases vigorously.”

In a similar statement to WHIO, a spokesperson for 3M said:

“3M acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS - including AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) - and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”

A spokesperson for Tyco said the company couldn’t comment on ongoing litigation.

News Center 7 has reached out to the other companies listed in the lawsuit for comment and we are awaiting responses.

We’ll continue to update this story as we learn more.