Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and the Department of Environmental Protection said Jan. 14 they are suing the federal government over the contamination of drinking water on and around military bases allegedly caused by the long-term use of fire suppressant aqueous film-forming foam, which contains toxic chemicals.
There are excessive levels of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) emanating from the federal facilities, according to the state’s Jan. 14 complaint. PFAS substances were commonly used to make products like Teflon and Scotchgard, but also accumulate in the human body, according to the complaint, and are associated with serious health problems such as cancer. They’re also known to harm the immune system and decrease vaccine response.
The complaint alleges that the routine use of AFFF at U.S. military and other facilities throughout the state has contaminated public and private sources that provide drinking water to those facilities as well as to communities near the bases.
“With today’s lawsuit, we are inviting the federal government to finally take the risks posed by PFAS chemicals as seriously as New Jersey does, and to take appropriate steps to protect the health of military and civilian families who live near our military bases,” Grewal said in a statement.
“Federally owned facilities in New Jersey that polluted the environment through the use of aqueous film-forming foams must do the right thing by properly investigating and remediating PFAS-contaminated water supplies,” DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe said in a statement. “Governor Murphy and I are proud of New Jersey’s accomplishments in leading the nation by taking strong health- and science-based actions to protect the health of our residents from PFAS chemicals. Through this legal action, we are demanding that the federal government follow New Jersey’s lead.”
Military facilities listed in the complaint include Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, near which about of 45,000 active duty, guard, reserve, family members and civilian personnel live and work. Including the population of municipalities surrounding JBMDL, this suit directly affects approximately 600,000 people.
Naval Weapons Station Earle in Monmouth County and the former Naval Air Warfare Center in Trenton are also listed in the complaint.
According to the suit, the federal government should be required to address contamination of drinking water supplies when present above New Jersey’s own safe drinking water standards for PFOS and PFOA, a maximum contaminant level of 13 parts-per-trillion and 14 parts-per-trillion respectively, instead of using the federal standard of 70 ppt.
Sampling of drinking water supplies around the base has thus far identified three private drinking water wells with combined levels of PFOS and PFOA ranging from 152 ppt to 1,688 ppt.
The excessive PFAS levels can be traced to the use of AFFF products at federal facilities, according to the suit, which also alleges that the federal government is one of the nation’s largest users of AFFF with its usage dating back to the 1970s.
In the lawsuit the state seeks to recover costs incurred during the DEP’s investigation of the PFAS contamination allegedly caused by the U.S. military, along with costs incurred in remediation.
Additionally, it seeks a court order requiring the federal government to remediate the affected areas around the joint base to levels that comply with state standards, to medically monitor residents whose drinking water supplies have been contaminated by PFOA and PFAS, and provide other water sources to residents whose drinking water has been contaminated.
The complaint is being filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, which is handling litigation from around the country relating to AFFF. The case may ultimately be decided in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.
The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.