Water contamination remains a pressing environmental and public health concern in the United States. The nation has witnessed a surge in water contamination cases, leading to legal battles seeking justice and accountability.
In this article, we delve into the US's four most significant water contamination lawsuits. Each of these represents a poignant chapter in the struggle to safeguard clean and safe drinking water.
Flint Water Crisis
The Flint water crisis is one of modern US history's most notorious and devastating examples of water contamination. This crisis unfolded in Flint, Michigan, a city already grappling with economic hardships and struggling to provide essential services to its residents. The events that transpired in Flint are a stark reminder of the far-reaching consequences of negligence.
The Flint water crisis began in April 2014. This was when the city switched its water supply source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River. The attempt was to cut costs and use the money for other development projects. Unfortunately, this decision proved catastrophic, as the river water was improperly treated to prevent contaminants from leaching into the drinking water.
As a result of this ill-advised change, lead levels in Flint's water supply skyrocketed, exposing thousands of residents, particularly children, to dangerous levels of the toxic heavy metal. Experts believe the safe lead level should be 10 µg/L or less, but the EPA has set it at 15 µg/L. However, the lead levels were more than this in Flint's water supply.
Lead is known to cause severe developmental and neurological problems, especially in young children, and the effects of lead poisoning are irreversible. Many Flint residents reported various health issues, raising alarm bells about the safety of the water.
As public outcry intensified, several lawsuits were filed against the city, the state of Michigan, and government officials for their role in the crisis. The legal battles aimed to seek justice for the victims and hold those responsible accountable for their actions or inactions. Additionally, the crisis prompted investigations into other communities' water systems, exposing similar issues in other parts of the country.
The debate on whom to blame was settled in 2016. This is when Rick Snyder's (an unelected emergency manager appointed to run the city) team released its final report. The report concluded that the water contamination was indeed the fault of Michigan's government. The lawsuits have been ongoing since then. A recent report shows a judge approved a $600 million settlement in the Flint water crisis.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuit
The Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit is another example of water contamination's lasting impact on the health of affected individuals. This environmental tragedy occurred at the United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Between the 1950s and 1980s, the water supply at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with toxic chemicals. According to TorHoerman Law, the water was found to have over 70 hazardous solvents. The four chemicals in the highest levels were volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride, and benzene.
The average month-wise levels of TCE in the water were more than 70 times the permissible amount. These chemicals originated from various sources, including on-base industrial activities, improper waste disposal, and leaks from underground storage tanks.
As a result, thousands of military personnel, their families, and civilian employees stationed at Camp Lejeune were unknowingly exposed to these hazardous substances. The contamination at Camp Lejeune was linked to severe health issues. For example, health problems like cancers, birth defects, and other chronic diseases were associated with contaminated water.
The affected individuals and their families filed multiple lawsuits against the US government and the Marine Corps. Through the Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit, they are seeking compensation and accountability for the health issues. The legal battle has been complicated and protracted, involving cases of negligence, liability, and the scope of responsibility of the government.
Woburn Toxic Wells Case
The Woburn toxic wells case refers to a legal dispute in Woburn, Massachusetts, during the 1980s. The case became well-known due to its portrayal in the book “A Civil Action” by Jonathan Harr, later adapted into a movie starring John Travolta as the lead character. In May 1980, 12 cases of childhood leukemia were detected in East Woburn, served by two wells.
The case revolved around allegations of groundwater contamination causing health issues in Woburn residents. Residents claimed that drinking water from local wells was responsible for causing leukemia and other health problems in their community. The contamination was believed to result from toxic chemicals released by two companies: W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods, which had industrial facilities in the area.
A group of families brought the lawsuit against these companies, and their lawyer was Jan Schlichtmann, a prominent attorney. The case was based on the argument that the companies' negligence in handling hazardous chemicals led to groundwater pollution and subsequent health problems.
The legal battle was long and complex, presenting various evidence and expert testimonies on both sides. Eventually, the case settled out of court in 1986, with the companies agreeing to pay a substantial sum to the affected families.
DuPont C8 Contamination Case
The DuPont C8 contamination case, also known as the “DuPont Teflon Case,” is a landmark legal battle that exposed the harmful effects of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA or C8) on human health and the environment. This case centered around DuPont, a major chemical company, and its negligent release and improper disposal of C8. This led to widespread water contamination and its subsequent impact on communities in West Virginia and Ohio.
DuPont used C8 to produce Teflon, a non-stick coating widely used in cookware, clothing, and various industrial applications. However, the harmful effects of C8 on human health have been concealed for years, despite evidence indicating its potential dangers. The non-stick cookware market was worth $19.5 billion in 2021. Ceramic has replaced the older material, which does not contain PFOA or PTFE.
The contamination came to light when legal battles and independent investigations revealed that DuPont had released significant amounts of C8 into the water. As a result, thousands of individuals in communities surrounding DuPont's manufacturing facilities were exposed to unsafe levels of this toxic chemical through their drinking water.
In 2001, a class-action lawsuit was filed against DuPont on behalf of the affected communities. The lawsuit alleged that DuPont had negligently allowed the release of C8 into the environment and caused severe harm to residents' health.
In 2005, a scientific panel determined a probable link between C8 exposure and specific health conditions, further strengthening the plaintiffs' case. 2015 after a series of bellwether trials, DuPont agreed to settle the class-action lawsuit for $671 million.
These legal battles have shed light on the urgent need for clean and safe drinking water for all. As communities continue to fight for justice, these cases serve as reminders that transparency and public awareness are vital in preventing future crises. We must remain steadfast in our commitment to safeguarding our precious water resources and ensuring a healthier and sustainable future for all.