The Kalispel Tribe has become the latest jurisdiction to seek compensation for toxic pollution allegedly related to the use PFAS-containing firefighting foams.
According to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington, on April 6th, the Kalispel Tribe purchases water from the city of Airway Heights for the Northern Quest Casino and other tribal uses. In May 2017, tribal authorities were informed that the city’s wellfield was contaminated with PFAS in excess of guidelines established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (Case No. No. 20-cv-00127 )
The casino “undertook near heroic efforts to supply it in a short time.” Nevertheless, the pollution resulted in a “major disruption of business,” as guests and employees became “afraid for their health and personal safety.”
The lawsuit asserts that the PFAS contamination can be traced to the U.S. Airforce Base in Fairchild, which – like other military bases across the country – had for decades used aqueous film-forming foams to extinguish fires driven by jet fuel and other highly-flammable liquids.
The tribe is seeking more than $21 million from various firefighter foam manufacturers, including 3M Company, Tyco Fire Products, Chemguard, Buckeye Fire Equipment, National Foam and Kiddle Firefighting. The lawsuit also seeks an equal amount of damages from the federal government, asserting that “the United States Air Force knew the ground and groundwater of the West Plains Aquifer at Fairchild would offer a disposal mechanism for its pollutants” and failed in its duties to protect the water supply.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are manmade chemicals used in everything from stain retardant fabrics and Teflon cookware to food packaging and cleaning products. These “forever chemicals” don’t break down in the environment or the human body, and are known to interfere with immune function, endocrine function and breast development.
The EPA classifies two specific PFAS used to manufacture firefighter foams – PFOA and PFOS — as “emerging contaminants,” and has established a “Lifetime Health Advisory” setting a recommended lifetime limit for exposure from drinking water. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has also issued a warning regarding increased risks of breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer and kidney cancer related to the use of firefighting foam at U.S. military installations.
According to a recent report published by the Environmental Working Group, PFAS from firefighter foams have contaminated the drinking water at 28 military bases and surrounding communities throughout the United States, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the West Point Military Academy, in New York, and the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.