Kaul sues Johnson Controls, Tyco over PFAS pollution
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit Monday against Johnson Controls and Tyco Fire Products over PFAS pollution, alleging the companies contaminated the Marinette area over decades and haven’t done enough to clean things up.
Kaul, a Democrat running for reelection in November, filed the action in state court. The lawsuit alleges that Tyco began releasing fire-fighting foam from a Marinette testing facility into the environment in 1962 and the foam has contaminated the area’s soil, groundwater, surface water and air. Johnson Controls has been providing environmental consulting services to Tyco since 2016 but has failed to properly investigate the extent of the pollution and the two companies have done little to clean up the contamination, the lawsuit contends.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified forfeitures. Although the filing doesn’t call for a certain amount, state environmental law dictates that forfeitures can range from $10 to $5,000 for each violation. The filing also seeks a court order forcing Tyco and Johnson Controls to launch an investigation of the extent of contamination and clean it up.
“When companies contaminate our water, they must fully remediate the harm they’ve caused,” Kaul said in a statement. “Every Wisconsinite shout be able to rely on the safety of the water they drink.”
Tyco officials said in a statement that they will “vigorously defend” the company from the lawsuit. They said Tyco has invested “considerable resources” on investigating and remediating PFAS pollution from the Marinette training facility, including offering bottled water and in-home filtration systems to residents in the nearby town of Peshtigo as well as building a groundwater pollution extraction system that will begin operating by this summer.
PFAS is an acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They’re manmade chemicals found in a range of products, including non-stick cookware, water resistant clothing and fire-fighting foam. The chemicals don’t break down in nature. Research suggests they can cause health problems in humans, including liver problems, lower birth weights and increased risk of high blood pressure and cancer.
A number of Wisconsin municipalities have been grappling with PFAS in their drinking water in addition to Marinette, including Madison, the town of Campbell just outside La Crosse, Peshtigo and Wausau. The state Department of Natural Resources policy board last month adopted limits of 70 parts per trillion in drinking water and 8 ppt for most surface waters than can support fish. The board scrapped a plan to set limits at 20 ppt in groundwater, citing astronomical cost estimates to replace wells. The regulations are still subject to legislative approval.
According to the lawsuit, PFAS from foam at Tyco’s training facility in Marinette have caused a plume of contamination. The extent of the plume isn’t known because Tyco and Johnson Controls haven’t completely investigated and defined the plume’s perimeter. Tyco sampled contamination levels around the facility between 2013 and 2016 and detected concentrations as high as 254,000 ppt in the groundwater.
Tyco didn’t provide the DNR with the sampling results, although officials from both Tyco and Johnson Controls verbally told DNR officials in November 2017 that there was “significant” contamination at the training facility.
The DNR issued both companies a letter in 2018 declaring them responsible for the pollution and ordering them to investigate and clean it up. The lawsuit alleges Tyco should have started clean-up work in 2013.
The filing goes on to allege that the DNR has told the companies several times since early 2020 to investigate the extent of the plume since but they have failed to fully comply.
The DNR has expended “significant state resources” since 2019 to hire an environmental consulting firm to sample area wells because the companies failed to investigate the extent of pollution and provide residents with bottled water, the lawsuit maintains.
Conservation group Midwest Environmental Advocates praised the lawsuit, issuing a statement that it’s “high time (Tyco and Johnson Controls) be held accountable.”
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