The Office of the Attorney General anticipates its lawsuit against various manufacturers and distributors of aqueous film-forming foam will ultimately be shifted into multidistrict litigation in South Carolina.
The local lawsuit brings Guam in line with other jurisdictions that have filed similar complaints against manufacturers and distributers of the harmful products.
Attorney General Leevin Camacho said Guam could have filed directly into the multidistrict litigation but there is no statute to get the lawsuit back to Guam, which is where he wants the case tried.
"We wanted to make sure that if this matter proceeds to trial, we're going to have it here handled by our local court," Camacho said. "We'll file here, it will be removed to the District Court (of Guam) under a federal officer removal statute and then it will be transferred to the multidistrict litigation court in South Carolina."
The attorney general filed suit at the Superior Court of Guam on Thursday against the 3M Co., Tyco Fire Products, Chemguard Inc, Buckeye Fire Equipment, Kidde-Fenwal Inc., National Foam Inc., E.I. Dupont De Nemours and Co., and the Chemours Company with regard to environmental and health hazards brought on by their aqueous film-forming foam products used in firefighting.
Such products contain perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), part of a group of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Such chemicals are emerging contaminants. Limited findings have pointed to certain adverse health effects, such as thyroid hormone disruption and cancer for PFOS and PFOA, respectively.
Both chemicals have caused tumors in animal studies.
Concerns around PFAS resulted in a multitude of lawsuits spanning several states, according to media reports.
"(Defendants) have known for decades that there are adverse health impacts based on the exposure to these chemicals and they have hidden that from the general public and continued to sell and market their products ... knowing full well that those would be dangerous to the community," Camacho said during a press conference on the lawsuit Thursday.
Several water wells on Guam were found to contain PFAS in some level of concentration. Although there is no enforceable contaminant level on PFAS set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the recommended threshold is 70 parts per trillion. This advisory was issued in May 2016.
Five water wells have shown to have consistent elevated levels of PFAS, Camacho said. Two wells in Sinajana, A-23 and A-25, were shut down by the Guam Waterworks Authority. Another well in Tiyan, NAS-1, remains operational but has in place a carbon filtration system. The remaining two wells are also near the airport but they are not used for drinking water.
PFOS contamination in certain wells was detected by GWA in Mach 2015. The utility was only required to monitor the contaminants at that time according to past statements from USEPA.
About 1,000 of GWA 50,000 customers were affected by contaminated wells but the public learned of the issue just days prior to an official GWA notice in August 2016. It seems the agency was in the process of ensuring certain USEPA wording requirements were in place for the notices. Regardless, this led to criticism of the agency.
Camacho said the science is only beginning to emerge about these contaminants, considering that chemical companies have actively tried to suppress information. But Camacho also said he believed GWA acted diligently when it learned about the issue.
"GWA upon finding out, they've actually tested every single well, which I don't believe they were required to do," Camacho said. "I believe they've acted diligently in making sure in addressing the problem. And they are just as concerned as we are about the safety of our consumers."