Four Westminster, Massachusetts residents allege in a proposed class action that a collection of companies recklessly contaminated their property and drinking water with harmful “forever chemicals.”
The 89-page lawsuit alleges Greif, Inc.; subsidiaries Caraustar Industries and The Newark Group; Massachusetts Natural Fertilizer Company (MassNatural); Seaman Paper Company of Massachusetts; and subsidiary Otter Farm are responsible for an “environmental disaster” that first came to light when a Westminster homeowner living near MassNatural’s Otter Farm composting operation requested testing for his private well-supplied drinking water.
According to the case, lab analysis of the water revealed a concentration of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) well beyond the level considered acceptable by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). Subsequent testing of five additional residential private wells within 500 feet of the initial testing site, including those belonging to the plaintiffs, also found unacceptably high levels of PFAS in the drinking water, the suit relays.
The lawsuit says that 116 of the 137 private wells tested by MassDEP contained water with PFAS concentrations above the state limit.
“Residents with the Private Wells that are contaminated cannot use the water from their wells and instead must use bottled water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and other ordinary household uses,” the filing states.
With regard to the defendants, MassNatural is a 30-acre family-owned commercial composting facility, and Seaman Paper Company owns Otter Farm, where MassNatural conducts its operations, the suit relays. Per the complaint, Seaman Paper operates a paper mill at which 900,000 gallons of water is treated per day and dumps the waste materials from its manufacturing processes on the Otter Farm property.
Greif, Caraustar and The Newark Group together operate a containerboard mill for which they have dumped “contaminated waste materials” at MassNatural’s composting facility at Otter Farm since 2002, the suit adds.
Central to the case are PFAS, man-made, long-lasting chemicals not found in nature. Although thousands of PFAS exist, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) are two of the most widely used chemicals across myriad industries due to their ability to repel water, dirt, oil and grease, and resist heat, the suit relays.
The filing explains that PFOA and PFOS are referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their ability to persist in the environment indefinitely without breaking down. Compounding matters is that these chemicals are both resistant to biodegradation and water soluble, meaning they can easily leach through soil and into groundwater, the case says.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to PFOS and PFOA is linked to a number of health effects, including reproductive issues, increased risk of certain cancers, developmental effects or delays in children, and other concerns.
In Massachusetts, the concentration limit for PFAS in drinking water is 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for the sum of the concentrations of six “forever chemical” compounds (PFAS6), including PFOA and PFOS, the complaint states. At the initial well testing site, the drinking water was found to have a PFAS6 concentration of 1,335 ppt, and additional wells had PFAS6 levels between 333 and 1,815 ppt, the lawsuit claims.
According to the case, testing of MassNatural’s private well on the Otter Farm property showed a PFAS6 concentration of 5,720 ppt, more than 286 times higher than the state limit and reportedly the highest concentration ever recorded in water from a private well in Massachusetts.
The lawsuit also alleges MassNatural has sold compost and other products contaminated with hazardous levels of PFAS6, and misleadingly advertised to the public that the items were safe for use in gardening, landscaping, home construction and land reclamation projects. More specifically, the suit says MassNatural has falsely claimed that it tests its incoming materials were extensively tested prior to composting.
“Defendants’ creation, disposal, storage, sale, and/or distribution of PFAS6-contaminated waste products has upended the lives of Plaintiffs and the Class Members,” the case alleges, noting that those who may wish to move away from the area will suffer additional challenges given that their property values have taken a hit due to the known presence of PFAS contamination in the water.
The lawsuit looks to represent all persons who have lived or owned property in Westminster, Massachusetts between 2002 and the present.
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Camp Lejeune residents now have the opportunity to claim compensation for harm suffered from contaminated water.