THORNTON, Colo. — The City of Thornton joined hundreds of other plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against several chemical manufacturers claiming "forever chemicals" contaminated portions of their water supply, some of which affected drinking water. The issue can be seen in communities across the country.
The companies being sued manufactured products that contained per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, generally referred to as PFAS. A common substance that uses such chemicals is a firefighting foam, which the City of Thornton said "unlawfully contaminated" sections of the water supply.
“This is a big lawsuit. It's called multi-district litigation. It's pending in Charleston, South Carolina, right now. And there's hundreds of water utilities, municipalities, airports and people filing lawsuits against these chemical manufacturers," said Thornton Deputy City Attorney Adam Stephens. “In the case of the lawsuit the City of Thornton has now filed, we're going after the manufacturers of the chemicals that created the AFFF, which is a form of firefighting foam."
The lawsuit claims the city first discovered the chemicals in the water on July 30, 2018. The PFAS were found in levels that exceeded recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health advisory levels.
Stephens said PFAS are known as forever chemicals because they are heat-resistant, stain-resistant and water-resistant. He said after they are used for their intended purpose, the chemicals stick around where they were used.
“It's not just in your water. Unfortunately we're finding that it's in a variety of consumer products, from clothing to cookware to carpeting to furniture. So consumers really need to educate themselves on these products and learn on how they can reduce their risk," said Stephens. “Science is still trying to understand the effect on the human body, in our environment, that these chemicals have on us.”
RELATED: Thornton takes proactive step, warns residents of harmful 'forever chemicals' in its water
Stephens said currently, Thornton residents are safe to drink the water in the city.
“These "forever chemicals," the contamination that comes from the threat is a long-term threat over the course of a lifetime," he said. “People are safe to drink their water and use their water. However, we have posted, as a responsible water utility, a series of FAQs that folks can go to to read more about PFAS and learn what they can do to remove it. There are ways of taking PFAS out in your own home.”
According to court documents filed by the City of Thornton, PFAS can be associated with health issues like kidney cancer, testicular cancer, high cholesterol, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
The most contaminated ground-water source in Thornton has been taken out of service until it can be properly treated.
Elena Sarayeva has lived in Thornton for seven years, and says she appreciates how transparent the city has been about the water contamination. She has been researching what exactly forever chemicals are and how to protect her family since she was alerted to the issue by the city.
“For me, now the proper step is to research the filters that removes this PFAS chemicals from the water and to see how the situation can be improved," Sarayeva said.
The goal of the lawsuit is to recoup the costs needed to remove the forever chemicals from the drinking water supply, according to the city.
“We're asking for, quite honestly, the chemical manufacturers to own up and agree this was a problem that they knew or should have known was going to happen when they created these chemicals," said Stephens. "They have to take ownership of helping us and other water utilities like us remove these chemicals from people's water.”
If the City of Thornton is not paid the millions of dollars they say are needed to fix the problem, they intend to push ahead to a jury trial.
The first trial scheduled for federal court is slated for this June involving a community in Florida, according to Stephens.
The Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) has a website where residents can search their specific communities and find PFAS sampling results associated with drinking water systems.
The City of Thornton also offers answers to frequently asked questions about PFAS.