On October 13, the Attorney General for the District of Columbia sued a pesticide manufacturer for polluting D.C. waterways and natural resources. That company, Velsicol Chemical, LLC, was the sole manufacturer of chlordane, one of the most widely used pesticides in the United States until it was banned by the EPA in 1988. The District is seeking money damages for injury to its natural resources including the economic impact of the loss of ecological services. The District is also seeking award of past, present, and future costs to investigate, assess, analyze, monitor, and remediate the contamination.
Chemical Manufacturer Refuses to Pull Product Despite Knowledge of Danger
Like PFAS manufacturers, for decades Velsicol knew chlordane was a persistent toxin that would leech into waterways, disperse in the environment, and threaten human health. Internal studies showed the pesticide to be carcinogenic by the 1970’s. Despite this, the company chose not to pull the product from shelves. Instead, the District alleges, they engaged in a years-long disinformation campaign to continue sales for as long as possible.
Chemical Manufacturer Engages in Disinformation Campaign
Velsicol’s PR blitz worked. By the time the EPA finally banned Chlordane, more than 30 million homes and buildings had been treated with this toxic chemical. Despite the ban occurring in 1988, Chlordane Chlordane continues to widely contaminate the District’s natural resources, including its waters. The District alleges addressing the Chlordane contamination has cost and will continue to cost the District’s taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Thus, the District brought a lawsuit to force the polluter, Velsicol, to pay for the remediation of its contamination.
The Unseen Hazards in Our Water
The pesticide at issue, Chlordane is a persistent environmental hazard that will remain for decades without active remediation and treatment. Chlordane, like PFAS, bioaccumulates, meaning it builds up over time in fish, birds, and mammals. It can be found in food, air, water, soil, and sediment. Chlordane is carcinogenic and long-term exposure is also linked to miscarriages, depression, diabetes, learning problems, growth retardation, and bone-marrow diseases.
Corporate Greed Puts Profit before People
Despite the known health hazards, the manufacturer actively promoted the impression that the continued use of chlordane products was necessary to prevent termite damage in homes. Those advertisements failed to disclose the potential negative health effects of using Chlordane. The District alleges that Velsicol’s actions in aggressively hiding the chemical’s toxicity from both government regulators and the public resulted in widespread use of the toxin for decades. This resulted in widespread contamination of the District’s waterways for decades. As of 2016, a majority of the District’s waterways were still not in compliance with the water quality standards for chlordane. So, the majority of the District’s waterways are still impaired, nearly 30 years after the banning of Chlordane.
The Rise of Contamination Suits by States and Municipalities
Stag Liuzza, LLC expects to see an increase in suits like District of Columbia v. Velsicol Chemical, LLC. Once the EPA sets a maximum contaminant limit for PFAS, municipalities and water providers will need to become compliant. Like Velsicol did with Chlordane, PFAS manufacturers concealed potential and known hazards to avoid regulation. PFAS manufacturers were even more successful with their campaign. It was not until September of this year that the EPA finally proposed to remove 12 PFAS-bearing chemicals from the list of inert ingredients approved for use in pesticide products.
Recently the EPA also discovered PFAS leaching into mosquitocides from the fluorinated high-density polyethylene (HDPE) containers in which those are stored.
Like Chlordane, PFAS will be a problem for decades and decades after regulation. Regular PFAS testing will be required. Considering PFAS has been found in everything from pesticides to fast food packaging, it is estimated there will be in excess of 50,000 sites discovered with PFAS contamination in excess of regulatory levels.
To achieve PFAS compliance, states and municipalities will increasingly need to avail themselves of the court system. Litigation will be the primary option to fund the millions of dollars in remediation and upgrades that will be necessary due to groundwater and surface water contamination. Stag Liuzza, LLC recommends municipalities get out in front of this toxic timebomb by bringing a lawsuit early. Unlike Velsicol, there is no guarantee that PFAS manufacturers will be solvent thirty years from now. If you are responsible for a public or private water system and you are concerned about contamination of your water supply, please contact us at (504) 593-9600 for a free consultation.