They Thought Their Drinking Water Was Safe. Now, a Lawsuit

Wisconsin city of Wausau sues PFAS makers, insurance firms over groundwater contamination
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 4, 2023 9:12 AM CST
They Thought Their Drinking Water Was Safe. Now, a Lawsuit
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Hyrma)

A Wisconsin city has filed a lawsuit against more than a dozen manufacturers of so-called forever chemicals, claiming the contaminants have polluted the city's groundwater. The complaint filed Thursday on behalf of Wausau is against 15 makers of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), as well as 61 insurance companies, according to a release from Mayor Katie Rosenberg's office cited by USA Today. The release notes that the city has detected PFAS in the six groundwater wells that serve its 40,000 or so residents, "a direct and proximate result of the use of these chemicals by defendants and other manufacturing companies in the area, resulting in the migration of PFAS into the city's water supply."

The insurance companies are included in the suit because the PFAS manufacturers had purchased "excess" umbrella policies and commercial general liability from them to cover themselves in the event of lawsuits tied to the chemical compounds, used in various consumer and industrial products, per the release. "Local government taxpayers and water district ratepayers should not be responsible for PFAS drinking water contamination," attorney Paul Napoli notes. "Those responsible, including relevant insurance companies, which have responsibility for public water system contamination should be accountable."

USA Today notes that PFAS suits in Wisconsin have become commonplace, and that Wausau has seen one of the worst infiltrations. Just last month, 3M was ordered to inform workers at its Wausau plant that the plant's drinking water was found to have 26 times the amount of PFAS allowable by the state's Department of Natural Resources, per WSAU. The city, which has distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in water bottles and filtration pitchers since the contamination was discovered early last year, is set to install a granulated carbon filtration system to help remedy the issue. "The people of Wausau trusted that those corporations that earned billions of dollars creating products that were in nearly every household in America were doing so without putting our community's health and resources at risk," Rosenberg says, per the release. (More forever chemicals stories.)

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