Mayors pursue legal action against water company, manufacturer

Half a dozen new Jersey mayors say the 3M Company, a multinational conglomerate corporation, and Middlesex Water Company failed to comply with safe drinking water standards and they intend to file legal actions against the companies, which the officials believe are responsible for polluted groundwater in their respective municipalities.

Carteret Mayor Daniel J. Reiman, Woodbridge Township Mayor John E. McCormac, Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Busch, South Plainfield Mayor Matthew P. Anesh, Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey and Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso have collectively retained the nationally-recognized law firms of Vlasac & Shmaruk of Iselin, New Jersey, and Berger Montague of Philadelphia, to investigate the and pursue any claims.

Vlasac & Shmaruk said it expects to file a class-action lawsuit against Middlesex County Water and 3M because of groundwater contaminated with very high levels of Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), one of two notorious ‘forever chemicals’—so called because their chemistry keeps them from breaking down under typical environmental conditions.

PFOA can be found in water, soil, air, and food. Long-term exposure can result in problems in cholesterol levels, kidneys, liver, immune system, male reproductive systems in men and issues in infants and children.

The Biden administration recently announced a three-year initiative to regulate and restrict the use of these chemicals, which are often found in everything from cosmetics to food packaging.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Oct. 18, 2021, it’s initiative to regulate PFAS and restrict their use but U.S. manufacturers still utilize the chemicals, and public water systems are not required to monitor for any PFAS.

Berger Montague lawyers were lead counsel in the nuclear reactor incident at Three Mile Island, a $215 million school asbestos litigation case, and the trial of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which culminated in a record-setting $5 billion punitive damage award.

In the aftermath of the Notice of Exceedance publicly announced on October 22, 2021, which reported that their system is in violation of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s maximum contaminant level standard.

The mayors decided to work together, pool municipal resources and implement legal action to protect water users in their communities after Middlesex Water Co. issued a “notice of exceedance” to around 29,000 customers indicating that the level of PFOA in water from the company’s Park Avenue Treatment Plant rose to 36.1 parts per trillion (ppt) in a sample collected Aug. 2

That test result, received Sept. 7, was more than twice as high as the 14 ppt limit currently enforced by the Department of Environmental Protection.

The mayors also retained T&M Associates, an environmental engineering company, to review company water quality reports, tests and other documents related to the drinking water contaminant level violations.

“For many years Carteret has aggressively and successfully fought to protect the health of our residents and to hold polluters accountable in the court of law,” said Carteret Mayor Daniel J. Reiman. “My administration is proud to join in announcing that we have partnered with our neighboring towns to engage special class action counsel and to take legal action against the Middlesex Water Company and 3M for the high and unacceptable levels of PFOA in drinking water being supplied to our residents.”

“We demand immediate action, first to correct the exceedance of PFOA in drinking water, second to compensate our residents and businesses for the added costs of buying bottled water and the installation of water filters,” said Reiman.

“Just like we combined forces to engage environmental experts, it makes good sense to join together on any litigation efforts because we collectively represent over 300,000 residents and that makes us a powerful force,” said Woodbridge Mayor John E. McCormac.

“After thorough consideration of the multitude of concerns expressed by Borough residents regarding the Middlesex Water situation, we have decided to join in the filing of this lawsuit to help protect our residents’ interests,” said Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Busch.

South Plainfield Mayor Matthew P. Anesh said he planned to ask the borough council to join the lawsuit.

“I believe this litigation is absolutely necessary to get the truthful answers my residents deserve,” said Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey.

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