California Water PFAS Lawsuit – An Increasing Trend?
On October 27, 2020, a California water PFAS lawsuit was filed by the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency against several companies, in which it is alleged that the companies are responsible for PFAS water contamination in southern California. It is alleged that the PFAS contamination is the result of various manufacturing processes and wastewater discharges. The water agency is seeking monetary damages to pay for the cost of “investigations, remediation, treatment, removal, disposal and monitoring” of the PFAS. It is expected that the Agency will seek millions of dollars in damages for the installation of state-of-the-art PFAS filtration systems.
The lawsuit stems from findings by the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency from August of 2019, when PFAS were detected in seventeen of the Agency’s wells. These detections triggered notification requirements by the Agency, in which they had to notify state agencies of the detections; however, none of the PFAS detections were significant enough to require the drinking water wells to be shut down. The Agency nevertheless took quick steps to try to clean up the local drinking water sources, as they recently opened a new water treatment plant, which aims to filter PFAS from drinking water, and plan to have two more operational by 2022.
As states continue setting drinking water limits for PFAS and in preparation for the EPA’s final determination of a Maximum Contaminant Level for PFAS in drinking water, many water utilities are beginning to evaluate the steps needed to come into compliance with existing or anticipated water regulations. Comprehensive compliance programs are being created and costly well testing sites are being built to determine PFAS content at various points along the waterways for drinking water sources. At water treatment facilities, expensive water filtration systems are being installed to remove as many PFAS as possible from drinking water sources. With water utilities coming under fire in the litigation world for PFAS issues, these steps may curtail the short-term issues and costs associated with PFAS litigation.
However, the long-term impact of the remediation steps that water treatment facilities ae taking may only be pushing litigation costs further down the road, not eliminating them. In addition, little considered Superfund laws may be triggered through PFAS water filtration that could end up costing water treatment facilities tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs.