October 5, 2023
- Judge rejected arguments that identifying class members will be difficult
- Class attorney says decision brings case closer to trial
A federal judge has allowed more than 100,000 North Carolina residents and property owners to bring claims over toxic water pollution against E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co and The Chemours Co (CC.N) as a class action.
U.S. District Judge James Dever in Raleigh on Wednesday certified two classes of plaintiffs that include water utility customers and private well owners near a Chemours-owned chemical plant that they claim dumped wastewater containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, into the Cape Fear River south of Fayetteville for decades.
PFAS are a class of chemicals used in a wide range of consumer products from non-stick pans to fabrics and have been linked to certain cancers and other health problems. In March the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations to address the chemicals, calling them an “urgent public health and environmental issue.”
The plaintiffs sued in 2017, alleging that the 2,000-acre Fayetteville Works chemical plant has discharged massive amounts of PFAS since 1980, polluting more than 100 miles of river, contaminating their drinking water and causing extensive damage to thousands of miles of municipal and residential piping.
The plaintiffs claim that they have developed various diseases associated with PFAS exposure, including cancers and bowel disease, and that counties near the plant have higher rates of some of those diseases than is normal.
The lawsuit seeks punitive and compensatory damages for various things including the cost to install and maintain water filtration systems, the cost of bottled water some residents have been forced to buy and the cost of replacing water pipes and plumbing fixtures.
Dever rejected arguments by the chemical companies that identifying individual class members suing would be too onerous, and arguments that each plaintiff is impacted in unique ways that would require them to sue individually.
Theodore Leopold, an attorney for the class with the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, praised the decision on Thursday, saying it brings the case closer to a trial.
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For the class: Theodore Leopold of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll; and Stephen Morrissey of Susman Godfrey